Eastbourne Speedway director Ian Jordan has talked to Paul Watson about Saturday’s vital Championship Shield semi-final at Arlington Stadium, what’s needed for success and all things Fineprint Eagles.
Paul Watson (PW): Some people think our progression to the Championship Shield Final is now a ‘given’ following the first leg. Do you see it like that?
Ian Jordan (IJ): No, not all. The performance at Glasgow, and to leave with just a four-point deficit was magnificent.
It was probably one of the outstanding results anywhere in the Championship this season, if you asked any neutral fan.
That said, however, I think we still face a monumental task and despite being at home I really do think that we are under-dogs, given the power that Glasgow possess on and off the track.
They have a huge weight of expectation to make the finals of these two-leg competitions, so I think that there is more pressure on them than us.
PW: How hard will it be for the Eagles on Saturday?
IJ: Glasgow won at Arlington in the league by one point on a night sadly overshadowed by the terrible injury to Tom Brennan. I have to be perfectly honest, I cannot recall anything about that night other than the accident.
Thankfully, Tom is well on his path to recovery. This is a season-long competition and the efforts of all nine riders that we have used in the 1-7 this season have got us to where we are now. The seven that take to the track on Saturday will, I know, give 100%. That is all that we can ask.
PW: How has the Eastbourne team shaped up in season 2019?
IJ: The efforts of our three heat leaders this season have been truly magnificent. I can’t speak too highly of Edward, Lewi and Richard – on and off the track.
Watching them home and away, how they prepare and ride for the team and the willingness to offer advice and help to the less experienced riders is the epitome of team work.
Kyle has come in and done a fantastic job and Alfie is improving by the week and is behind the scenes ultra professional and willing to learn and take onboard all of the advice and help he is offered, which bodes very well for his future.
Jason has come in and already made a significant contribution on and off the track with his smile and enthusiasm notably lifting spirits already and his debut Heat 2 win at Glasgow was clearly an early spur that all the other guys pulled and worked off.
We will welcome Georgie back in the the fold on Saturday after his unfortunate seven-day illness ban over which we had no control.
We all know what Georgie can do at Arlington and hopefully we can see a vintage Georgie show on Saturday and then an upturn in his away performances during a very busy spell where we have five successive away matches before returning to Arlington on August 24.
I must also pay tribute to Ben who contributed very well in the early Shield matches and of course to Tom, whose injury ripped the heart and soul of all of us for a while, especially in those desperate days after the crash.
We can’t wait for him to return to the team and whether it is this season or next, he will have a place in any Eastbourne side I am involved with for as long as he wants it.
That’s how highly I regard him as a rider and a person on and off the track. So this has been a Team Effort and that I think is our core strength.
PW: The Eagles have made the semi-finals of the KO Cup and the Shield and reached the finals of the Championship Fours. Has progress matched your hopes?
IJ: I am not sure what the expectation was when the season started.
Looking back, it was a minor miracle that we started on time as we had a very truncated winter.
There was what seemed like a never-ending wait from putting in our application to join the Championship in mid November, to being finally approved in early February.
I will never forget those weeks when we were all working hard to put something together whilst the BSPA official website had no mention of us (or Birmingham) in any league set up and, even when they finally acknowledged our existence, every Press briefing we put out was followed in red writing by a warning that we had not yet been formally authorised.
PW: With that background, it must have been gratifying to get the support you have.
IJ: We started with literally nothing and only the good grace of the riders we signed, the track staff and background staff got us to tapes on April 6.
To say that “we flew by the seats of our pants” in those final few days and weeks up to the first meeting is probably the biggest under-statement you could make.
It’s a bit weird to look back now and to realise how far we have come in such a short space of time.
The boys on track have been outstanding, the support of sponsors truly magnificent and humbling and the reaction of all of our supporters has actually made me quite emotional at times, in a positive way just so welcoming.
I have to take a second Paul to once again thank our major sponsors: Fineprint, HG Aerospace, Robins of Herstmonceux, Corporate Connection, Turner / V8 Engineering and The Holly Blue/Marstons, and all of the heat and other sponsors that help us, Your support is truly appreciated.
We are also seeing an excellent “take up” of the TeamBuilder Lottery and Rider Support Fund, and this too will help us greatly.
PW: We can all see every week the riders on track but tell me about the ‘team’ behind the scenes work that has gone on.
IJ: We have developed an online website, social media, Eagles TV presence that we can all be proud of and which we know we can enhance and further improve.
Our Community Team deserve every bit of credit and applause that they get and to date we have attracted more than 3,000 “first time visitors” to Speedway in 2019.
That is an area which has also had to evolve from an idea and a “belts and braces” beginning and another area where we know there is massive scope to improve and increase what we do but I can’t speak too highly of all involved in those areas.
Of course, we are also getting great support from our Landlords (Martin and Jon) and the guys at the track (Darren, Neil and Roy) who work incredibly hard.
PW: Can you improve all this in the future?
IJ: Yes, we can and by a huge measure.
What I do know, is that with a season behind us and a winter ahead, if we are asked and tasked with returning in 2020, then we are not in terms of potential and scope out of 1st gear yet.
We have so much more to deliver and offer and to hopefully show that in this part of East Sussex we can buck the trend and make Speedway fun, enjoyable and dare I mention the word, optimistic for the future.
In making it to the semi-final of the Shield (v Glasgow) and the KO Cup v Redcar, we have exceeded the expectations I think of all but the most optimistic supporter.
The club enjoyed a fantastic run in the National League, under the stewardship of Martin and Connor, and to follow up a double winning season, which is what they achieved in 2018 is as tough as it gets.
If we get knocked out in two semi-finals, we have nothing to be ashamed of and can be very proud and happy with the achievement so far.
PW: What about from a commercial standpoint?
IJ: Commercially semi-finals should attract bigger crowds and certainly a final (or two) should see Arlington packed to the rafters.
We have tried to be more transparent in terms of outlining our attendances and break-even data than probably any club in speedway.
This is a deliberate strategy to open up to the supporters and to be honest and straight with them.
Our best attendances (all well over 1,000) have been fantastic, our average around of 900 is just above break-even but we do seem to have an issue on Speedway GP nights (two so far and three to come, including this coming Saturday) where attendances for fixtures against Edinburgh and Glasgow have been worrying, if taken in isolation.
If we could avoid SGP nights it would be great, fact is we had to set fixtures before SGP announced full calendar and we don’t have enough Saturday’s to completely avoid clashes.
PW: Saturday or Sunday speedway?
IJ: The jury is still out on the Saturday night v Sunday afternoon debate Our best three crowds have been “afternoons” but many of our most loyal fans tell me they prefer Saturday nights.
Sunday’s suit the younger family audience that we are more trying to attract.
However, the 3.30pm start time is universally unpopular with the riders, whose views we simply cannot ignore.
If we have to run on Sundays later in the year 3.30pm may be OK as weather gets less hot, but if we have Sunday afternoon next season, we will probably try 5.30pm which the riders have indicated they would prefer.
PW: I keep reading and hear people talking about big changes to UK speedway in 2019. What can you tell us?
IJ: There are possibly going to be huge changes in the structure of the sport in 2020 and we have to be ready for all eventualities.
I was asked an excellent question at the Fans’ Forum about plans for 2020 and it may be a good time to explain to a wider audience;
The question was: what league may we run in or wish to run in?
First of all, we would hope to be asked back to promote again in 2020.
If so, ideally we would hope that the current three tier structure would remain as long as there are 10/11 or more teams in the middle tier.
I feel we have established a foothold at this level, can clearly punch above our weight on the track and it is vital really that, as I have explained, that we have another year to cement the foundations we have built off the track but also to fine tune and improve and build on them over another 12 months, when hopefully we’ll have a full two winters to build properly in to 2021.
PW: Are we talking about what people are calling One Big League?
IJ: The “mood music” is all about One Big League (OBL) and, if I was a betting man, right now I’d say 60/40 it will be OBL.
It may be regionalised with 14-16 Clubs, split North and South, it may be a genuine OBL we don’t know.
What we do know is that if there is one league and no doubling up as PL/CL won’t exist and only ‘doubling’ will probably be in reserve slots from NL.
Having said that, there are currently only enough riders riding in the UK to staff 14 teams with 7 riders or 16 teams with 6-man teams.
I am massively in favour of 7-man teams so we have to prepare and ask very serious questions about the risk and viability of that happening.
It is a year too soon for us, I will be crystal clear about that BUT it is a boat that if we don’t join at inception, it may be very difficult or impossible to join at a later date.
PW: Have you any idea about the costs of OBL?
IJ: We have, as I have mentioned, some fantastic sponsors whose support we massively appreciate, but which we cannot and must never take for granted.
To run in the Championship we could not have broken even without their support.
To survive in a OBL scenario, we would need either £50,000 more in sponsorship or increase our average crowd to around 1100 to make the figures even begin to stack up.
We could increase admission to the £18 that some CL and almost all PL Teams charge and that would immediately bring us close to break even in a OBL scenario, but personally that is not something we would wish to do, as to ask existing customers to pay more and to blindly ignore that fact that it is being done just to “get by” is not good business sense and certainly not good customer service.
So, the solution is either increased sponsorship or increased crowds or a combination of both.
PW: Is there anyway you can ‘test the market’ before 2020?
IJ: I view these coming semi-finals and hopefully final(s), and all the remaining league matches, as vitally important tests for the future.
If we have hit a ceiling of a 900 average, then I fear that we have to hope that the Championship with its costs and structure remains as the OBL scenario would be a step too far for us at this stage.
If we can attract an average of 1,000 for league matches and get a couple of crowds of 1,200 + for the semi-finals and may be 1,500 for a Final, then I think that we can absolutely take that as a massive endorsement of what we have achieved so far and plan for the future in what we are calling OBL, if it happens in 2020.
PW: Is there an alternative?
IJ: There is of course another option in any OBL structure and that is The National Development League (as it is currently called).
I know that there will be many who have fond affection for this. I certainly both love it and respect it.
However, having come where we have this season – and seen the opportunities we have before us – I have to say that if the model of either the “status quo 3-tier structure” or a “OBL” structure saw us seeking to go back to the NDL on cost grounds, then I would see this as complete and utter personal failure on a business level.
I would hope and pray that if it was the only option, someone else would pick up the cudgels and run with it, as speedway at Eastbourne in any form has to be safeguarded for as long as possible.
PW: In summary, what would you say to supporters?
IJ: Please come along to the semi-final on Saturday and as many of the remaining fixtures as you can.
Please bring a friend, a neighbour and work colleague and try to get the message out that we have a fantastic and exciting sport, great fun and, as someone who had been for the first time mailed me and commented on Monday, for £30 for a family of up to four kids (Family Ticket) a far cheaper night than at the cinema or many of the other local attractions.
It will be very important for us to see you all there, cheering the team on and helping us to decide as part of the tough and vital financial projections that we have to make before we attend the BSPA Conference and make decisions in mid November.
PW: Thank you Ian for your time.
Image Credits: Tiffani Graveling Photography & Mike Hinves