Jamie names his Magnificent Seven
Berwick’s speedway Bandits hosted a packed Fans' Forum in the Black & Gold hostelry at Shielfield Park on Sunday evening, with club boss Jamie Courtney explaining a few ‘facts of speedway life’ to the fans while unveiling his full line-up for the 2019 season, which starts around Easter.
There's a familiar look about this SGB Championship League line-up for the 2019 Bandits with five of last-year's fifth-placed squad being joined by a returning club asset and a gilt-edged teenage prospect, who will be added to the asset-base after completing his first few matches.
Fans were assured that the marvellous team spirit displayed throughout the 2018 season will most certainly be recaptured in the new term of trading.
Despite being forced to chop four and a half points from their side's cumulative averages in order to comply with the new season's required figure of 38 points, club boss Jamie Courtney and team manager Gary Flint will have five of last season's stalwarts in their three Australians, namely skipper Kevin Doolan, Aaron 'Spud' Summers and Jye Etheridge, Austria's No.1 Dany Gappmaier and the great Dane Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen all back in black and gold.
This quintet proved to be match-winners time and time again in 2018, and will form the main team line-up for the opening matches of the campaign.
The newcomers, who start the season at reserve as numbers six and seven will be familiar faces, too.
Returning to Berwick is Fernando 'Coty' Garcia, who first travelled from his home in Colonia Baron in Argentina as a raw recruit, but quickly became a popular Bandit back in 2015.
Coty has since been loaned out to clubs such as Glasgow and Ipswich, ending 2018 as a member of Somerset's Knockout Cup-winning team at Premiership level, before this return to the colours.
The seventh rider has been nipping around the Shielfield pits for so long he could be mistaken for part of the fixtures and fittings!
Still just fifteen (he turns 16 on February 22nd, allowing him to race at Championship level for the first time) local laddie Leon Flint has already been riding speedway, on a succession of ever-increasing engine sizes, since he was ten years old!
Leon has already been crowned British 250cc Champion and last year formed an association with ROW Rybnik in Poland while enjoying a sensational beginning to his British league career with Birmingham Brummies where, despite having just turned fifteen and one of the youngest starters in the National League, he returned a match average of 8.55.
SEASON PASSES SMALL PRICES, BIG SAVINGS!
Jamie Courtney pulled no punches at Sunday evening's Fans' Forum, explaining his priority was the future wellbeing of speedway at Berwick.
"Simply," he said, "the current business model doesn't work. To survive and prosper we have to fit some things into line with other clubs in the Championship.
"I’m running the club this year with a new business plan and it’s all about making Berwick Bandits work as a responsible enterprise, continuing our speedway for many years to come!
"In 2019 we will have slightly increased admission prices which is the club's first escalation for a few years. Adults, that's 16 and over, will pay £17. Concessions (OAPs and students) are only £13 and all children under sixteen just £1.
"However, to honour our loyal regular supporters, we are launching our 2019 season tickets at 2018 prices, these prices will be frozen for a month, until January 9th.
"A season pass for fifteen official meetings, that's all our home Championship matches, all our home meetings in the Shield section plus our opening match in the Knockout Cup, and with a free weekly match programme thrown in as well will, for the next month only, cost just £199 while concessionary season tickets are pegged at £149 until next month.
"This means a saving of £93.50 over the season, and a really solid reduction of £83.50 for concessions, discounts which we hope our regular fans, the people we're putting on the show for, will take full advantage of over the next few weeks."
THE EIGHTH MAN:
They won't have him on the track in 2019, but Berwick fans will still be seeing plenty of David Howe! After a twenty-year career which saw him appear in three Grand Prix, five World U-21 finals (and ending up by finishing runner-up in the season finale Bordernapolis in September) 36-year-old David has announced his retirement from active racing.
Admitting that his final seasons at Berwick were the happiest times of his long career: "I've never, anywhere, enjoyed team spirit such as we had last season," he said.
David is, this weekend, over in Denmark, tidying up his new arrangement with Bandits’ Danish ace Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen, with whom he'll be working full-time in the coming season.
"You'll need to ask Nikolaj what my title is," he admitted. "I'll be in the pits with him at every meeting and a bit more than just a mechanic, but maybe a bit less than a manager, and if we can get him going as well as he performed during half a dozen meetings we hooked up in last year, look out!
"He was so happy with the way things had gone, and he was guest-riding at Leicester, and did really well there too, he told me that whenever I stopped racing there was a job waiting for me as his coach, whatever word you want to use!
“Well, I've stopped racing! We've talked it over, I flew out to Billund on Friday to finalise a few things, and when the bikes are rolled out in 2019 I'll be the one rolling NBJ's machinery!
"What makes it really great is that, when Nikolaj's riding for the Bandits, I'll be there in the pits, sharing all the fun and banter with the guys as usual. Other than that I don't have to get dirt squirted in my face every four heats, nothing's changed!"
As for Nikolaj, the tall, cool Viking could be set to enjoy his best year yet in a career which has already seen him contest four World U21 finals, act as reserve at the 2015 Danish Grand Prix and top-score (and be voted 'Man of the Meeting') in Australia for the Danish U21 World Team Cup squad in 2015, so what does he think about having David Howe on board?
"Fantastic!" he said in his ultra-polite English. "2019 at Shielfield Park will be awesome!"