Whose fault if Witches end up in Premier League?

SPEEDWAY: IF Ipswich Witches end up in the Premier League next season will it be the fault of the system or of their management?

This is the poser that Foxhall Stadium regulars will ponder if the Suffolk-based side are beaten in the relegation play-offs next month – or opt for a drop down from the Elite League.

Witches general manager Mike Smillie admits that a move to the less expensive Premier League would not guarantee a return to winning ways for a club that finds itself currently rock bottom of the top flight.

Ipswich fans are now voting with their feet with an attendance figure estimated by many to be below 500 for the 59-33 thrashing they received from champions-elect Poole Pirates last Thursday.

And there is likely to be a similar lack of interest when Peterborough visit the heath this Thursday in a meeting that will serve little purpose other than to complete Ipswich’s league fixtures.

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The ‘big’ meeting will come in October when either champions Edinburgh, or one of the other top four Premier League finishers race the Witches in a two-legged relegation/promotion play-off.

Edinburgh have chosen to face Sheffield with Newcastle taking on Birmingham to see who will emerge to take on Ipswich.

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While the Elite League has its faults as it competes with the Grand Prix series for use of the world’s top riders the Premier League has a collection of relatively contented promoters getting through the season with money in the bank.

But while fixtures may be haphazard and costs exorbitant, the majority of Elite League promoters are making it a success.

This suggests that in an area that is traditionally a hot bed of speedway, Ipswich should be coping much better than they have since winning the treble in 1998.

“There is no certainty there Ipswich will do well if they drop down,” said Smillie, who was a successful Witches team manager for a decade.

“You still need good management, and of course you will have to wave goodbye to star riders like local lad Scott Nicholls.

“Ideally Ipswich should keep in the top flight although the Elite League is currently over pricing itself.

“There is too much expenditure and a pitch between the two top leagues would bring an improvement with promotion and relegation a more practical and viable proposition.

“The huge current gap was emphasised last Thursday when Edinburgh high scorer Ryan Fisher guested for us and struggled to score just one point.

“Eastbourne and Belle Vue are also finding life tough at our level and it will be difficult to sustain the Elite League in its current format.”

Ipswich – and Eastbourne and Belle Vue to an extent – have long been considered by many just to be making the numbers up to make a division large enough for the likes of Poole, Coventry and Wolverhampton to thrive.

Smillie confirms that last Thursday was Ipswich’s biggest ever home defeat since at least 1969 – having lost to King’s Lynn 55-34 in the KO Cup in 1988.

“I think we also lost 57-33 to Wolves,” said Smillie. “And ironically we won 64-26 at Poole in 1998.”

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