Q&A with Eagles Director Les Fineing

Les Fineing has been a familiar face at Eastbourne Speedway for many years; known to many as the printer of the award-winning Eagles programme. Last summer, Les joined Ian Jordan as a director of the company promoting the speedway at Arlington Stadium. He is in conversation with Paul Watson.

Paul: When did you first start watching speedway?

Les: It was when the sport came to Romford. That would have been in 1969. Wally Mawdsley transferred the team to there in mid season from Rochester. They ran at Brooklands, which was a football stadium. They put a track round the outside. I was there from the first couple of meetings. 

Paul: Romford didn’t last long, closing in 1971, I believe.

Les: There was a chap who lived close to the track called Mr Stretch. He was very vociferous and he got the council to close the speedway down. They even put up sound-proof fencing but he got the racing stopped halfway through the third season and the Romford Bombers moved to finish the season at West Ham, the old Custom House track.

Paul: Where did you watch speedway after that?

Les: I didn’t until I moved to Eastbourne in 1978. I probably took in a meeting in 1979 but then we started going more and more. I knew the track electrician, who worked for Dugard’s, and he introduced me to Jon Cook who asked me to print the covers for the Eastbourne Speedway programme. That would have been the early 1980s.

Jon was using a Risograph for the text pages which wasn’t very good quality, especially for the photographs. I started printing in black and white and then into full colour. It just progressed over the years.

It did lead me on at various stages to print the Swindon programme and at one time the Lakeside one.

It was not that I was looking to be a speedway programme printer but when they phased out, I was just happy to continue doing the Eastbourne one. That was where my interest really was. I am a printer who just happens to print the Eastbourne programme and at the end of the day ended up sponsoring it.

Paul: You are the managing director director of Fineprint Sussex Ltd, so tell us about your sponsorship.

Les: I was printing programmes for seven meetings in effect a year free of charge for Martin and Connor when they were running in the National League.

One of those meetings was my payment for the heat 15 sponsorship on the race card. In the last season they ran (2018), when we did the double, I printed all the programmes in the second-half of the season for free to help out. It gradually progressed to becoming main sponsor in 2019.

Paul: Being the headline sponsor last season must have been a great feeling for you.

Les: It was something I had always aspired to – my company is Fineprint Sussex Ltd. It would have sounded nice if it had been the Fineprint Sussex Eagles but they naturally retained the Eastbourne name. Seriously, I think it is really important for the Eagles to become more closely aligned with Eastbourne and I think that is something that Ian and I can look to in future.

Paul: How did you become a director of the promoting company?

Les: Ian said he was looking for a director and I put my name forward. I thought ‘my printing days will be winding down soon, so why not make a direction of work in the sport I love the most.’

Paul: What’s your analysis of last season?

Les: It was good because we leapt up into the Championship and I thought the team wasn’t too bad at all. The injury to Tom Brennan was a big shame, although Kyle Newman came in and did a good replacement job. I am very pleased that we have been able to retain him for this season, as well as Tom.

Tom Brennan

We have a good base from last season in retaining Edward Kennett, Richard Lawson and Lewi Kerr.

With Tom in the team, bringing back Jason Edwards and signing Drew Kemp, we are going to be good at reserve.

We have a mix of experience and the three youngsters who are keen to learn. There is the Poultec connection to help with their training in engineering etc. I think they are quick learners and they will have the experience of the other boys if they need it on some of the away tracks that they may not have seen.

I am very pleased with the team we have got. We will have the team spirit that we had last year and they should bond very quickly. If you have a team which works for each other, it makes a big difference in the pits but more importantly, on the track.

Paul: How well will Eastbourne do?

Les: The Championship is very strong this season. I am looking at Poole and some of the other teams and it is going to be testing.

I hope we will do better away this season because we only got the two wins away last year. We won at Birmingham early season (in the Shield) when they were a bit below par – before they got Adam Ellis – and Newcastle. I was there for that win at Newcastle and unfortunately Ian and Trevor Geer missed it because they went to hospital with Alfie Bowtell.

Celebrating victory at Newcastle

It was a real rally at the end and it was great to watch. It was a brilliant comeback. Newcastle thought they had it won.

We need to get more league points on the board away, even if we snatch a losing bonus point. Every point counts. Every time a reserve can claw his way into third place . . . the secret, of course, is never to come last.

Paul: Who do you think the big competition will be for the Eagles?

Les: Poole I think. They have Danny King, Adam Ellis and they will be a big threat. Kent have Scott Nicholls and the longer you look at the other teams when you read the Speedway Star you realise that every match could be a cup final. There will be good racing.

Paul: Good racing equals good entertainment for the fans, in my opinion. What’s your view on the balance between winning at home and entertainment value?

Les: Obviously, I need to look at this question as a co-Director and from the business point of view.

Of course, we want to win but 65-25 home wins don’t do us any favours. They come at a huge cost in terms of rider pay and they rarely provide great entertainment.

Yes, you want success for your team but it is numbers through the turnstiles which will put money in the coffers and ensure the continuation of the speedway at Arlington and employment for the riders.

Last year, we unfortunately lost a couple of home meetings by one point on each occasion.

They were cracking meetings, apart from the injury one with Tom (against Glasgow). They were exciting meetings. For someone coming along as a neutral to watch speedway, they would find those quite exciting to watch.

Paul: Talking of Tom, how do you think he will come back from such a serious injury?

Les: I think he will be OK. Going out to Australia for some sun and racing before Christmas was a good idea. It has toughened him up.

We also have Jason and Drew out in Western Australia at the moment and it is sharpening them up pre-season and is a good idea.

Jason Edwards

Paul: Can we now move on to talking about promoting speedway in the immediate area of Eastbourne and Hailsham. Why do you think speedway is still the ‘best kept secret’ in these parts.

Les: If I could answer that one, we would have resolved that one a long time ago with input to other people promoting.

We spent money last year on putting digital adverts in The Beacon shopping centre in Eastbourne and elsewhere. That was money that probably did not make a return but we tried it and made a profile in the town centre. Leaflets in hotels to capture the visitors is a possibility but that can be costly.

There are companies that will place them for you but it is expensive. Maybe we should have our own volunteers to do that.

We are the Eastbourne Eagles but I don’t feel the profile in Eastbourne is high enough. Are we missing a trick with Eastbourne and Hailsham?

Paul: When I talk to people about speedway in the area they often think I am referring to stock cars. Why do you think that is?

Les: People may see trailers towing the stock cars and bangers around while the speedway bikes are tucked in vans. I don’t know.

Speedway is a rare sport because it is a team motorsport. That is unique in motorcycling. In Moto GP or F1, they may be in a team but they will race each other if necessary. I just think speedway is a unique model.

Maybe we should try and prime every speedway fan in the country who has a Facebook account to post promotional video clips which would be provided for them…for all speedway fans to do a public share, saying go to your local track to see speedway live. I don’t know if there is any mileage in that but there might be.

Paul: Any other thoughts on this?

Les: Going up a league last year was important. We are not in the top league but we are in the biggest league in terms of the number of clubs and fixtures.

I think you will find that some of the riders will say the racing is just as tough in some Championship meetings as it is in the Premiership.

Moving up brought people back to Arlington who had disappeared. I have seen them back at the track now we have moved up.

To be fair, I didn’t think the racing in the National League was too bad. I was happy to see speedway at Eastbourne rather than the track closing.

I am worried now by the way the National League seems to be heading. Some riders may just drop out of the sport altogether.

There are some who may not be good enough to hold a place in the Championship but will be considered too good to be in a development league. That’s a worry I have from the grassroots side of the sport.

Riders who are on that cusp, I don’t know where they are going to go – probably go out of the sport. What is wrong with continuing the Midland/Southern development leagues and having the National League.

I think the danger is making the gap between the Championship and the new proposed Development League even greater than it is with the old National League.

Paul: Attendances grew last season. Do you think we can continue that upwards trajectory?

Les: We do need to convert more people from the locality. If we don’t, a ceiling could be reached.

My thoughts are that we need to continue working hard at bringing people to see the sport for the first time. Ian’s Community Programme is brilliant – bringing these organisations, Scouts, football clubs etc in to give them a taste of speedway is a really good idea. That is being developed further.

We need to get the kids excited. Do that and the parents come. Speedway is exciting and you can easily get hooked on it. You are not waiting hours for a race. It builds up as the meeting goes on.

I just love speedway.

To learn more about Fineprint Sussex click here.

Main image: Paul Watson – Action images Mike Hinves