CAUGHT IN THE DRAFT: A look at the Swindon reserves who set out to make a name for themselves (From This Is Wiltshire)
A look at seven riders with seven very different stories after being given their big chance
5:30am Monday 12th May 2014 in By Andy Warren, Deputy sports editor, firstname.lastname@example.org, @AndyWarren_
SEVEN riders with seven very different stories.
The first ever Fast Track Draft has certainly been the talk of the sport in 2014 but, for the seven riders with links to Swindon who have taken part, has the quick route to the top proved fruitful?
One rider has seen his career come on leaps and bounds, another achieved his childhood dream before seeing it cruelly ripped away by injury, while the youngest of the lot is set to take his first steps on the road to the top this evening.
Two riders were quickly dropped due to poor form, one was picked in the draft but hasn’t ridden a single meeting, while a further rider has quickly brought his speedway career to an end after a bad experience with arguably the biggest club in the country.
There were always going to be winners and losers in such a radical change to the sport in this country, that was a given, and although we won’t know whether the scheme has been truly successful for a good few months or even years, the seven riders associated with Swindon have already provided us with a perfect snapshot just a few weeks into a new era for British speedway.
Worrall was the Robins’ first choice in the draft and, aside from missing meetings due to his Premier League commitments with Edinburgh, has been an unrivalled success. Worrall has captured many fans’ imaginations and proved just how far he’s come on Friday night as he recorded the fastest time around Coventry this season and became the first fast track rider to get the better of an Elite League heat leader.
Worrall’s been on fire in the Premier League this season too and is in no doubt how beneficial the quick route to the top has proved for him.
“You have to spend money to make money and that’s a big part of this experience,” Worrall said.
“I know myself as a rider and I know I can do things like (Friday night’s performance) but it doesn’t always happen. It’s going pretty well at the moment.
“This draft has given me a big chance and the reserves are playing a massive part in the Elite League this year, even though some people don’t like it.
“In the last few meetings for Swindon we haven’t been winning because I haven’t performed like I should but Friday was amazing.”
Swindon’s second selection was Josh Bates but, for a variety of reasons, he has never ridden a meeting in the Elite League. However, missing out on a chance of riding at the very top has not proved too detrimental to the young Yorkshireman after he won the British Under 21 title and also came within a single point of making it into the World Under 21 Final. What could have been had the youngster ridden for the Robins afterall?
“Things have gone alright to be honest and things have been good for me because I’ve not had that much pressure on me,” he told the Advertiser. “The Premier League is a bit stronger and more difficult I think, rather than being a reserve in the Elite League.
“It’s a shame I’m not able to go back into the draft now because a few clubs are interested, but I’m not allowed. It’s meant to be helping us but I’m not allowed in so in that sense it’s not been helpful in that way.”
Without a doubt the most touching story of the draft was that of Darryl Ritchings, the local lad given the chance to shine so close to home. It ended very suddenly and all too quickly following the Purton rider’s crash on April 3 which left him sedated for a fortnight but, with Ritchings well on the road to recovery now, the draft has allowed him to achieve a childhood dream which he otherwise may not have reached.
“It was such a big build-up with all the pre-season stuff and all the press, but to think I only completed one meeting and then just over a lap on my home debut is pretty sad,” he told the Advertiser soon after leaving hospital.
“But I rode for Swindon which was a real honour although it’s a shame it ended the way it did. Hopefully it’s not the end though as I am hopeful of riding again.”
Ritchings’ replacement was Dan Greenwood who, despite giving it everything he’s got, in truth just wasn’t ready to make the step up in class. It showed. Greenwood will now go back to the National League and will look to work his way up again. Has the experience stunted his growth as a rider? Only time will tell.
“Obviously I would have liked to have had longer but Rosco has pressure on him to have riders who are performing so it’s pretty understandable,” he said.
“It’s been tough, it was always going to be tough, but I enjoyed it all the same and it was a good experience.
“It’s nice riding a lot and it’s going to be a shame going back to just the one meeting a week when I go back to the National League. I need to go back there now and if I’m scoring maximums every week then maybe he might give me another chance.
“It’s a massive step and the tracks are ones I’m not used to riding and I’m riding against National League heat leaders when I’m still only a second string there.
“I’ve already put a point on my average in the National League so if I keep on making progress like that then hopefully something else will come up.”
The next man, or boy, to try and make the jump is Nathan Greaves. A 16-year-old of some pedigree who has won British title throughout age group speedway but, to date, has ridden in just one meeting in the Premier League on top of his National League commitments. We will soon see if Greaves is ready, and there’s no reason why this chance can’t be the making of him, but he will need to be given time.
“I’m going to do my best and whatever I’m going to do I will do,” he said.
“Obviously I’m not expecting to come out with a nine average or anything silly like that but I will go with the flow and see what happens.
“National League is good because you can learn off their number ones, but if they were that good they would be in the Elite League so I can’t wait to learn of people like Troy Batchelor and Peter Kildemand and see what knowledge they have to pass down.”
LEE SMART & BEN READE
The above are the five riders who have ridden for Swindon this season, or not in the case of Bates, but in Lee Smart and Ben Reade the town had two more hopes entering the top flight for the first time. However, neither lasted too long and were shown the door due to poor form. Reade was dropped by Belle Vue and then, just a few days later, was let go by Premier League Plymouth also, leaving him with the National League to concentrate on, while Smart has quit speedway altogether following his brief experiences with Poole.
“It’s a tough one because I spent a lot of money this year for only six meetings, which is really hard to take, and I really wasn’t happy with how things ended,” he said.
“It definitely needs some changes because it has worked out for some people and really not for others. It didn’t work for me.
“I’ve pulled the plug on speedway now, I’ve quit completely because I’ve had enough of all the politics and all the rubbish which goes with it.
“The whole season was awful because I was let down in the National League by not getting enough meetings, and things didn’t go well in the Elite League either.
“I wasn’t going to ride at all this year and I wish I had stuck to my guns in the first place.”
The above testimonies go to prove what we all knew from the beginning, there will be winners and losers from this process.
What matters now is how the sport moves on from this first draft experience. Ditching it after just one year will be a mad waste of time, while making the top performing riders ineligable from being drafted next year would also be self defeating. Regardless of how well they perform this season, are the likes of Steve Worrall and Lewis Blackbird going to make Elite League top fives next year? I think not.
There need to be tweaks, there’s no doubting that, with the system for booking guests just one thing which is causing plenty of problems, but every overhaul needs to start somewhere.
We probably won’t see the full effects of this gamble for another two or three years so, in the meantime, let’s just enjoy seeing that there are some talented young British riders out there and will them.