A Year in Summary : 2002
November again and a chance to reflect on everything that's happened since March. As always your comments are welcome.
The Elite League
This year gave us our first taste of the controversial playoff system. Eastbourne led the league all season long but Wolverhampton clinched the title by defeating the Eagles over the two-legged finale. The reaction was predictably mixed - The Wolves fans were delighted while those of an Eastbourne persuasion cried foul. The Eagles fans can have little cause for complaint however, the rules were agreed at the start of the season and known to all.
This was also the first (and possibly last ?) year where the Elite League clubs were limited to one (or two in some cases) Grand Prix riders. The reasoning was that the league could then happily co-exist alongside the Grand Prix series. It didn't work out that way however, teams were reluctant to race without their GP stars being present and the fixture list became a disjointed mess.
As the season ends we have serious doubts over the future of both Oxford and Peterborough. Oxford are keen to switch to the Premier League while nobody seems quite sure what's going on at Peterborough. The future of the league itself would be in doubt if it's numbers were reduced to seven. A lot of serious talking will have to take place this winter.
The Premier League
Things are altogether more stable in the Premier League. The league has developed into a well run competition that offers a varied fixture list. This season saw Rye House and Somerset join the league and both outfits acquitted themselves well both on and off track. The only clouds on the PL horizon are the possible loss of Hull (due to stadium problems) and any possible knock-on effects of the various crises affecting the Elite League.
Sheffield Tigers are the only contenders as Team of the Season for 2002. The Yorkshire side won the league, cup and the Young shield. A truly remarkable record for a side that never really stood out throughout the season. The Tigers side was led by Sean Wilson who was probably the league's top man. His team mates (with the exception of Scott Smith) are all rising stars and a tribute to Louis Carr's youth policy over the years.
The Conference League
The demand for Conference League places caused organiser Peter Morrish a few sleepless nights in the early part of the year. There seemed no way of fitting in the number of teams and accommodating their conflicting fixture demands. The novel solution was to run two parallel competitions - the Conference League and the Conference Trophy. The League satisfied those clubs that wanted a large number of fixtures whilst the Trophy accommodated teams that required a shorter campaign. Some clubs took part in both.
The Peterborough Pumas won the League in a tense end of season meeting (held at neutral Stoke) while Mildenhall's new promotion were delighted with their Trophy success.
Off track the big news was the addition of the famous Wimbledon Dons to the League. The London club reopened in a blaze of publicity but their first few meetings were staged in farcical conditions on a temporary track. A later relaunch, with a new promotion and a new track, was much more successful and the future for the club seems bright.
The Grand Prix
With a 10-round series there can be little doubt that the best rider would win overall. That was certainly the case in 2002 as Tony Rickardsson comfortably claimed his fifth title. Early in the year it seemed that Ryan Sullivan may dethrone Tony but he lacked the consistency that the Swede demonstrated. A poor start to the campaign ruined Jason Crump's chances but the Aussie still managed second place in the series.
The series moved out of Europe for the first time with the successful Australian Grand Prix. This trend continues next year when a round will also be staged in New Zealand. Exciting times for the sport's main showcase
This article was first published on 01/11/2002
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