Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Eastbourne Eagles 52 v 40 Cradley Heathens

Sunday 24th May 2015
National League Speedway
Arlington Stadium, Hailsham
Admission: £12.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 1,000 (estimate)
Match Rating: 4

Always one to try out new sports - American Football being the only one thus far that I just could not get into - today I had my first taste of speedway. And what a great experience it turned out to be, an afternoon full of excitement, intense action and drama. It would also be an afternoon of nostalgia for me, revisiting a stadium I visited many times as a child as my father raced cars around the circuit.

Arlington Stadium is located just off the A22 to the east of Hailsham, and for those using public transport, a taxi would be required to complete their journey. Minimal changes appear to have taken place here since my last visit around 20 years ago. One enters through turnstiles by the start-finish line and control tower, and to the right, there is a merchandise wooden hut then a covered terrace. On the opposite side, there is covered seating below a hospitality area. Around half a dozen uncovered terrace steps extend around most of the remainder of the track, apart from mainly grass banking behind one corner and the covered pits area to one side behind the other. An open area, the pits area is a good place to get close to the drivers and mechanics working on the bikes. Also in this area is the clubhouse and various refreshment stalls. All in all, its an intimate venue, and quite attractive too, set amongst woodland. Programmes were available and well worth purchasing, very attractively designed, 24 pages all in colour, and gave a helpful guide to speedway for first-timers, a scorecard to complete, as well as plenty of interesting information and the necessary stats and facts for both teams and the league.

In this, the first season that the Eastbourne Eagles have been competing in the third tier National League following their voluntary demotion from the Elite League due to financial constraints, they have made a steady start, coming into this meeting in fourth place in the League, with seven points from three wins and two defeats, and have won all five meetings in all competitions at Arlington. Today would be a very tough test of that unbeaten home record though, with the visitors from the West Midlands topping the table, and are the reigning Champions of the National League, having won 15 of their 16 league meetings last season, and they have started this season with a 100% record from their four league meetings so far. All in all, they came into this meeting unbeaten in their last 30 official fixtures.

On an overcast afternoon, and with the visitors bringing a healthy support with them, the Eagles led 4-2 after the opening heat, and they were never to relinquish that lead, although the meeting stayed right in the balance until the last couple of heats, even though the Eagles had opened up a seven point lead after the seventh heat.

It wasn't until the eleventh heat that the visitors made some inroads into the Eagles' lead, when they reduced the lead from 11 points to six having played their joker, but after tying the next two heats 3-3, the Eagles won the meeting in the penultimate heat, with a great 5-1 victory, to open up an unassailable ten point lead, but to put they cherry on the cake, the Eagles won the final heat 4-2 to win by 12 points overall, with a great drive from New Zealander Bradley Wilson-Dean, who was way behind the Cradley leader for the first couple of laps before mounting a fabulous overtaking move. That sealed a maximum haul of 15 points for Wilson-Dean, with Georgie Wood also impressing, scoring 12+3 points. Overall, it was an impressive performance from the home side, with some great overtaking moves to come from nowhere to win several heats. Although the final score was emphatic, and the Eagles were always ahead in the scoring, that disguised a meeting that was tense, competitive and really could have gone either way.

This certainly won't be the last time I watch speedway, impressed as I was with the short, sharp, intense excitement of the racing, and I very much enjoyed the friendly, down to earth atmosphere around the circuit, with a small amount of banter between the two sets of fans certainly adding to the overall atmosphere.

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