Pride back in the Witches – a season’s review

THE 2011 speedway season for Ipswich Witches fans ended with a big high and a Premier League Fours trophy. A new team in a new league, MIKE BACON looks back at the season.

SO, how was it for you?

When the Ipswich Witches management announced in the winter they were taking their club down into the Premier League, views were mixed.

Some saw it as a step backwards, a lack of ambition. How could the Witches possibly not be Elite?

But others were tired of paying money to watch a supposed Elite side that resembled little of the great Witches sides of the 70s and 80s. Too little dedication, too little passion.

I’d become tired too.

And although I hope the Witches one day return to the top-tier of British speedway – where they should be – there is little doubt the club needed to make some drastic decisions 12 months ago, to keep the sport alive and kicking at Foxhall Stadium.

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At the end of it all, I’ve enjoyed it.

I’ve enjoyed watching riders who want to ride for Ipswich.

I’ve enjoyed watching riders giving their all for Ipswich.

And I’ve enjoyed the fact that – for the first time in many seasons – Ipswich again has a speedway team to be proud of.

Of course not everything in the garden has been rosy.

Some of the riders in the Premier League are distinctively average. And Witches fans will have to currently live with the fact the Lasse Bjerres, Taylor Pooles and Cameron Heeps of this world, are only using the club as a stepping stone to greater things.

Not a nice thought. The Witches need to be back in the big time one day.

But crowds certainly held up in 2011, racing was good, and having a main team sponsor on board, in the shape of Sackers Recycling, was an added bonus.

Fans couldn’t wait for the first meeting.

MARCH

OPENING night at Foxhall couldn’t have gone much better for the Witches.

Rye House were the visitors in an Anglian Cup challenge, and the Witches started with four consecutive 5-1 maximums. Surely it wasn’t going to be as easy as this?

An eight-point defeat in the return saw an aggregate victory and the Suffolk side picked up their first trophy of the season.

The real stuff started a week later, with Berwick the visitors in the first Premier League meeting of the season at Foxhall.

Again the Witches started well and picked up a comfortable three points.

Seven days later there was a massacre at Foxhall, as Scunthorpe were beaten 69-24, Witches fans hunting through the record books to see when there had last been such a thrashing, as Kevin Doolan, Bjerre and Poole remained unbeaten.

APRIL

IPSWICH fans were brought down to earth with a bump at the start of April, when Somerset Rebels cockily rocked into town and, in a bad-tempered affair, deservedly took all the points.

It was a cracking meeting though, with a superb, cut-it-with-a-knife, atmosphere.

If all Premier League meetings were going to be like this, who needed the Elite League?

Somerset completed a quick-fire double 24 hours later, before the Witches won their first away meeting of the season – at Newport – Chris Schramm racing to four heat wins, and 13 points.

It had been a good start to the season for the Witches and the hapless Workington Comets were well-beaten on a night that saw Morten Risager get a 12-point maximum, accompanied by fellow maximum-men Doolan and Bjerre.

Doolan’s early season form had been good, and he was the only Witch to get among the Sheffield Tigers at the fast Owlerton track, in a 56-36 defeat.

But in front of a bumper Good Friday crowd, the Witches returned the compliment to the Tigers, Bjerre, Poole and Jerran Hart all in good form.

After victory over Redcar, at Foxhall, engine problems for Doolan and Risager cost the Witches all three points in the return in Cleveland, but a 45-all draw was a decent result for team manager Pete Simmons’ side.

MAY

THE May-Day Bank holiday double-header between the Witches and Rye House saw the Rockets gain the bragging rights, after picking up a point at Foxhall in the afternoon.

Indeed, it could have been more had Bjerre not produced a thrilling final bend to beat Rockets’ Jason Doyle on the line, as Ipswich won by two points.

Rye House won the return easily, but the meeting was marred by an awful crash to Risager that saw him almost lose one of his little fingers that got caught up in the mesh fence.

The Witches had their first major crisis on their hands and a poor showing at Edinburgh did little to lift the slight concern that had crept into the Foxhall outfit, with Risager now out.

However, a Chris Mills-inspired Witches saw off Plymouth easily enough, and a 20-point lead was gained over Scunthorpe in the first round of the KO Cup, first leg. Newport were also sent packing at the end of the month, Schramm and Bjerre securing all three points after a tense encounter at Foxhall.

JUNE

THE Star of Anglia individual meeting was a welcome addition to the calendar in 2011, Berwick’s popular Aussie, Kozza Smith, winning it in style at the start of the month.

But the vagaries of using rider replacement (for Risager) came back to haunt Ipswich as they almost threw away their 20-point KO Cup lead over Scunthorpe.

When Mills crashed out of the meeting in heat two, the Suffolk side only had five riders, and the Scorpions made them pay – a last-heat 5-1 maximum securing a 55-35 win, a draw overall and a replay.

The season was about to take an ugly twist after Schramm, guesting for Glasgow, crashed at Newport and broke his back. He was in hospital for weeks.

However, he was lucky, it could have been much worse. But the popular Essex racer’s season was over.

Mills was back for the home League meeting with Edinburgh and he top-scored, as Ipswich kept up their presence at the top of the table, while Scunthorpe were put in their place in the KOC replay, first leg – Bjerre, Poole and guest Sam Masters – all unbeaten.

Berwick brought their Suffolk visitors down to earth with a bump in a league fixture two days later – 62-28 the Border team thrashed Ipswich – with only Doolan showing any form.

Bjerre picked up a knee injury racing in Denmark and his loss almost cost the Witches victory at Foxhall at the end of the month as Newcastle lost by just three points to the Suffolk team.

JULY

RISAGER and Bjerre were both back in the Witches starting line-up, as Scunthorpe were finally put to bed in the KO Cup, although the Witches still lost by 16 points in Lincolnshire.

Champions-elect Glasgow produced what their team manager later described as ‘the performance after which I knew we would win the league’, as they beat Ipswich by six points at Foxhall, Risager, clearly not fully race-fit after his serious finger injury, scoring just two points.

An exciting draw at new-track Leicester saw the Witches pick up two more points, although the meeting was abandoned after 14 races, when Bjerre and Kauko Nieminen crashed heavily in the final race, with the score 42-42.

Frenchman Mat Tresarrieu, was brought into the Witches line-up to compensate for Schramm’s loss, and he made an immediate impact, with 14 points at Glasgow in another defeat on the road.

Any hopes of a cup run were ended by a resurgent Newport Wasps, who beat the Witches home and away at the end of the month, in what was a most disappointing home meeting, heavily criticised by the Foxhall management, who let their riders know home performances like it would not be tolerated.

A topsy-turvy month ended with a League win at Plymouth.

AUGUST

BJERRE notched three wins at Scunthorpe but again the Witches couldn’t pick up a point from another league defeat.

Inconsistency was rife within the Witches camp, as Mills got injured again, but then, from nowhere, they produced their best away performance of the season.

Beaten 62-28 just two months previously at Berwick, the Witches hit back with a 50-40 win of their own on the same track, Bjerre, Tresarrieu and Doolan all in great form.

Defeat at Newcastle the next day was disappointing, but not unexpected, as the Witches finished the month with a winning romp over Rye House at Foxhall, Risager now back to his best, with a paid 14 points.

SEPTEMBER

THE Witches had slipped down the table, but had home meetings in hand and, after defeat at Sheffield, they went on a good run of form.

It started with a quick return to Newcastle where the 11th hour availability of Bjerre, who was supposed to be riding in Denmark, boosted the Suffolk side.

Indeed, it was Bjerre and Doolan who stayed calm to pick up a last-heat 3-3, as Ipswich won by a single point, 47-46, in the north-east.

Guest Nick Morris did his best to inspire Workington and Ben Barker tried to do the same for his Plymouth side on successive Thursday nights on the Heath, all to no avail, with the Witches in fine form now – solid throughout – and the wins continued to mount up, the month ending with another one over Newcastle.

OCTOBER

THE Suffolk side went into the final month of the season with a third, and possibly second, place finish in the Premier League up for grabs.

A paid 14 points for Hart signalled another home victory, this time over Leicester, before the Witches dropped crucial points at basement-club Plymouth, losing 42-48 on a night they should have won.

There was still much to ride for, with two trips to Workington still to come, the first of which ended in a 12-point defeat.

It looked as though a third-place finish would be all the Witches could race for now, but a surprise 10-point victory at Rye House on a Sunday afternoon, led by Tresarrieu and Hart, gave the Witches hope they could still finish runners-up.

They needed to win their last two league meetings, at home to Sheffield and away at Workington.

The Tigers were currently in second place and looked as thought they meant to keep it that way after taking Ipswich by storm at Foxhall.

But a big final flurry from the home side saw them take all three points in a thrilling final league meeting of the season at Foxhall.

At Workington on a cold Saturday night, the Witches – and second place in the table – looked nailed on, before a last-heat 5-1 maximum to the Comets saw the score finish level at 45-all, Ipswich losing out on second position on race points difference.

It was disappointing to get so close.

Little did Witches fans know however, the season’s grand finale was still to come.

At Leicester – 24 hours after the Workington draw – Doolan, Poole, Tresarrieu, Bjerre and Risager, lifted the Premier League Fours title – the Witches’ first piece of silverware since the all-conquering side of 1998.

They easily saw off home side Leicester, Workington and Somerset.

The 2012 campaign at Foxhall finished in the rain, with Dane Mads Korneliussen, lifting the 16-lap title.

DID you enjoy the season? Tell Mike, mike.bacon@archant.co.uk

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