1995 will forever be remembered as a watershed year for Speedway. It was the year that the World Championship morphed into a Grand Prix series. It was also the year that the long desired 'One Big League' came into being. This merger between the old First and Second divisions was designed to introduce greater variety to the fixture list and to afford fans of all clubs the chance to see the top riders.
One of the key components of creating a new league is to ensure that all teams are competitive. This was easier said than done and when the season had officially started many teams were still incomplete, let alone built to a competitive standard. This was partly due to an unexpectedly high number of teams coming to the tapes. One such club was Cradley Heath, the Heathens were given a late reprieve by their landlords and were unexpectedly able to continue. Sadly this would be the last season that the Heathens would race in Cradley Heath.
At several clubs the rider shortages were so acute that pre-season press days had to be cancelled. It did not help that several top riders had declined to ride in Britain at all, prominent amongst these were Hans Nielsen, Mikael Karlsson and World Champion, both then and now, Tony Rickardsson. The situation was rapidly descending into farce and so the SCB and BSPA agreed that under-strength teams could use guests for 'phantom riders'. This effectively allowed weak teams, such as Middlesbrough, to recruit a guest on a match-by-match basis to bring them up to strength - hardly an ideal way to ensure the success of a new league.
The rider shortage didn't prevent some rider movement however. Pre-season moves saw David Norris move to Reading, Charles 'Dukie' Ermolenko switch to Glasgow and Shane Parker and Robert Nagy sign for Middlesbrough. The Nagy deal was only completed after Middlesbrough agreed to pay £15,000 pounds to Glasgow, the Tigers would not allow him to move on loan.
Long Eaton had also been after Nagy but found more success in their attempts to secure Ronnie Correy. The diminutive American was returning from a serious back injury and agreed to race for the Invaders. Unfortunately he wouldn't be fit for the first few weeks of the season. In order to plug the gap, Graham Drury pulled a real rabbit out the hat - he persuaded Simon Wigg to fill in for the first month of the season. Wiggy had resisted all offers to race in the British League but agreed to help out.
The new Grand Prix series was also not without its share of controversy. May factions were against the idea from the start and opposition increased when it was announced that the inaugural British Grand Prix would be staged at Arena Essex. The home of the Hammers has never been a plush venue but plans were in place to upgrade the facilities and reshape the circuit. The development never did happen and the GP was eventually held at the refurbished London Stadium in Hackney.
One welcome piece of GP related news was the announcement that Sky Television would show the meetings. This was a real boost for a sport that had enjoyed negligible TV coverage for the preceding decade. The deal allowed highlights to be shown at 10pm on the evening of the meeting - a reminder that the meetings haven't always be shown live !.
This article was first published on 05/04/2003
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