Warriors & Wizards - 2020 Season Report
Speedway, like so many other sporting disciplines, has been hard hit by the Corona Virus. 2020 has become a year like no other and the knock-on effect for speedway teams up and down the country has been traumatic, concerning and just so frustrating.
Here on the Island, 2020 was a non-starter for the Wightlink Warriors and Wightlink Wizards due to government restrictions for the use of stadiums preventing public attendance, which culminated in the sport’s governing body taking the decision to abandon any form of league racing.
But when we look back on 2020 the Warriors promotional duo of Barry Bishop and Martin Widman should be applauded for some determined efforts to keep the club profile high. Barry Bishop takes up the story of an ‘annus horribilis’ that wasn’t so ‘horribilis’ after all.
“Our winter planning and team building had been coming along nicely and we had very high hopes for successes on and off track so the first lockdown just a couple of weeks before our opening night was hard to swallow and then exacerbated by the cancellation of all speedway in the UK, however, amazingly, we actually did go racing.
The Warriors were asked to compete at Plymouth in a Three Team Tournament involving Plymouth, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight. The Warriors management team worked extremely closely with Plymouth to ensure that fans were safe in a Covid secure environment throughout the meeting. It was universally agreed to be a huge success. This kind of meeting involves four riders representing each team and our quartet of Ben Morley, Tom Woolley, Connor Coles and Chad Wirtzfeld did a superb job missing out by just a single point for the top spot on the night, the result being Eastbourne 31, Isle of Wight 30 and Plymouth 28. It was a great meeting in front of 400 spectators and streamed live to a wider audience and while this wasn’t on the Island we can rightly feel proud that we helped enable this meeting to happen and we were able to represent you all with pride.
In addition to the team efforts Chad Wirtzfeld continued to ride on the grass track circuit in the few meetings available winning all in his class – so congratulations to him.
We also kept the club name right out there:
BDO Darts Sponsorship
Working with our partner ASGUK we managed to arrange and deliver a super opportunity for the Warriors logo to appear on stage at the BDO Darts Finals at the O2 Arena. This raised huge interest in the club and also excellent marketing with speedway fan and professional dart champion Scott Mitchell ensuring our logo was not only on Eurosport but also around the world on his Twitter and Facebook pages.
GB Young Lions U21 Training Camp
Just before lockdown, the Warriors provided facilities for three days of intense on and off track training for the GB Young Lions under the supervision of their manager Neil Vatcher. The camp offered the cream of Britain’s young riders the chance to develop their on-track skills and knowledge with expert coaching from top class riders Steve Worrall and Paul Hurry as well as providing close guidance on other matters such as media awareness, nutrition and fitness.
My First Skid
With the relaxation to allow training and amateur sports events without spectators, we reintroduced My First Skid – the speedway training school based at Smallbrook Stadium. Unfortunately, we could not allow the use of hire bikes and places were limited to 15 riders who owned all their own equipment and had to follow a strict Covid guide. This proved to be a great success allowing us to ensure that our track equipment remained functional and our island-based riders had more time to further develop their skills.
Online re-run of meetings via Speedway Portal
Since Martin and I re-started speedway, we have worked with Speedway Portal and its owner Andy Hague. Andy has established a full history of the Wightlink Warriors from our very first fans forum, when we nervously announced our plans to return speedway to Smallbrook. Andy and his team have recorded almost every home meeting since 2016 and the quality and ingenuity is clear to see – so much so Andy is now invited to film at other stadiums across the UK.
Andy asked if we would like to stream our past meetings for free to fans to ensure we keep them engaged with the Warriors and the sport in general. We didn’t need to be asked twice because for us not only did we engage with our fans but by watching re-runs we can see where we can improve on race day as well as afford our sponsors more airtime which is always a great thing. Our re-runs were so popular and it was superb to see our governing body and other clubs do the same.
Moving forward with Speedway Portal, we shall continue to stream our meetings for our fans throughout this winter period up until press day 2021 and should there be a delay to the season start we will continue to spread the Warrior Way using this forum. I would encourage anyone to sample the output via YouTube.
From time to time on our social media platforms, we will ‘surprise’ our followers with spectacular races from across our seasons to keep the Warriors in the minds of fans across the nation and beyond.
From the start of the first lockdown, our track announcer and Press Officer Rob Dyer produced a weekly quiz for fans to participate in. This proved extremely popular and again it was great to see governing body and other clubs produce their own.
On This Day
Using the Warriors Supporters Facebook page, we posted a summary of Warriors meetings that took place on that calendar date stretching back to 2016 bringing back memories of the various meetings during our tenure.
Virtual Skid came about as a way to create a real meeting using historic footage. Working with Speedway Portal we invented an algorithm that would take 4 meetings, (60 races) and jumble them all up so to give 15 race choices of A, B, C or D. We invited two celebrity team managers, selected from ex-riders, referees, sponsors and super fans to try and guide their team to victory by selecting each race. So far, we have produced 15 meetings, all available on YouTube including one which raised over £1,000 for the Speedway Riders Benevolent Fund.
The club has raised well over £1,000 for charity from the sale of Warrior branded face masks. We employed two methods for the face masks. Firstly, key workers, no matter what they did could request one for free while anyone who was not a key worker we requested a donation and anything over the cost price we gave to charity.
We gave £605 to Capt Tom Moore, £261 to Mountbatten Hospice (IOW) and £250 to the Speedway Riders Benevolent Fund.
And there is more.
Even today, volunteers are giving their time and effort to ensure that Smallbrook Stadium is on point and ready to serve the community in every way. We have refurbished rooms, improved areas and much more. We know it is a long continuous process but without question our volunteers deliver so much for our club and Martin and I thank them wholeheartedly for all that they do.
Our drive and enthusiasm is as strong as ever as we look to continue to win awards, trophies but most of all provide the best night out in Speedway in the UK.”