Eastbourne Eagles will not start the new season next month as league title favourites but there is a quiet confidence in the Arlington camp that they will once again surprise the pundits.
In recent years, the club’s “strength-in-depth” policy has been derided by the so-called experts but in 2011 they came within a whisker of taking the title and last year narrowly missed out on the end-of-season play-offs
Co-promoter and team manager, Trevor Geer, said: “We have managed to get the team we wanted.
“It should be an attractive team to watch and I’m convinced we will be near the top of the table again.”
He said last year’s campaign was hindered by an early-season injury to the No 1 rider, Joonas Kylmakorpi.
“That was a real body blow to us. Joonas was out for longer than we initially thought and at times it was difficult to cover for his rides.
“If we had managed to be a full-strength for the whole year, I think we would have made the play-offs again,” he said.
Eastbourne, unlike some speedway clubs, put great store by trying to keep a core of the side together years after year.
This year there are two changes: Bjarne Pedersen comes in for Kylmakorpi, who is not riding in the UK, and Lewis Bridger has gone on loan to Lakeside to be replaced by Adam Shields.
Both the “new boys” are not really new – Pedersen rode for the Eagles in 2011 and Shields was at Arlington from 2003 to 2006.
Geer said: “I think it is important to have a good team spirit in the pits.
“We know this team will get on well and that is a vital ingredient if things do not go well during the course of a match
“If one of the team is struggling, any of the other boys will be there to offer advice, support and some mechanical ideas.
“We really do believe that our seven riders are a ‘band of brothers’.
Pedersen and Shields are joined by the returning Simon Gustafsson, Cameron Woodward, Denis Gizatullin, Lukas Dryml and last year’s rider-of-the-year, Timo Lahti.
If you were looking at a potential “risk” in that septet, it might be Shields, who quit British speedway a year ago when riding for Belle Vue.
He announced his retirement from the sport but it has since emerged that family reasons surrounded his decision to stop racing.
Since then he has returned to the track; practice sessions in Europe and in the Australian national championships.
It was while Shields was trying out with Kylmakorpi that he was seen by Geer’s son, Chris.
He saw that Shields had regained his spark and the processes were put in place to talk to Lakeside and eventually bring the Aussie back to Eastbourne.
l Fans will get the chance to speak to the club management on Sunday (February 10) when a fans’ forum is held in the clubhouse at the Arlington Stadium (11am).
There will also be an opportunity to purchase Elite League Passes and to join the 100 Club.
A meeting for staff begins at 10am.