There is an old saying about the irresistible force and the immovable object and when they clash there is naturally friction and controversy, so when you bring together the immovable object of the Poole Pirates a Club whose whole ethos and DNA is about winning, winning regularly and sometimes, without being disrespectful, at all costs and the irresistible force, that is the 2022 Plymouth Westcolour Gladiators, whose 2022 performances have been nothing short of sensational in the face of incredible adversity that has built a terrific Team Spirit in the fire of battle, then something had to give….didn’t it?
The fact that a 45-45 result indicates that the irresistible force met the immovable object and ultimately both sides came out of it level ;suggests a titanic struggle and that it certainly was, but deeper analysis also shows the fact that the Plymouth Westcolour Gladiators rached to the absolute depth of their hearts and souls, reaching every sinew and delivered a performance in adversity that will live forever in the Clubs DNA.
Having lost the services of Edward Kennett during the first Meeting of the 2022 season; due to a recurrence and aggravation of an old arm injury and new issues linked to that, which are still being investigated by specialists and then losing the brightest rising star in British Speedway at the time in Dan Gilkes, victim of a hard riding accident at Scunthorpe, that left him with multiple arm fractures, several broken ribs and a collapsed lung, you’d have thought that the Westcolour Gladiators had used up their bad luck quota for the season very early, how wrong we could be?
A series of Home wins including the 60-30 thrashing of runaway League Leaders Leicester Lions and a comprehensive 51-39 defeat of the Poole Pirates, backed up by an Away win at Scunthorpe and losing Bonus points; which but for debatable decisions at Redcar and Birmingham may have been more; and excellent performances elsewhere meant that the Wescolour Gladiators awoke on Tuesday morning as the only Championship Team in 2022 to score a minimum of 41 points in every League Fixture, a record about which the Club are increasingly proud.
The day dawned with the shock news of the immediate closure of Newcastle Speedway at 10pm on Monday evening due to financial difficulties, the lateness of the cancellation costing the Westcolour Gladiators the region of at least £3000-£4000 in pre match set up costs and investment. The news that Ben Barker, who has been in imperious form of late for the Westcolour Gladiators had suffered injuries in a sickening crash at Peterborough; where he had been ridden into at high speed (completely accidentally); and suffered shoulder injuries and severe bruising that would keep him out for possibly 2 to 6 weeks was another hammer blow to the Clubs mounting injury woes.
Barker though is a notoriously quick healer; and with his Uncle Mark Phillips very adept at the decades old application of copious amounts of Gaffer Tape and the Devon equivalent of cryogenics; being a few quick immersions in the freezing cold Well; filled with the waters of the River Plym; that is situated behind the 3rd bend at The Coliseum; hopes are that Ben can be restored to fitness in double quick time.
So, the Westcolour Gladiators arrived at Wimborne Road last night patched up and ready to battle with Leicester’s Kyle Howarth riding as a Guest for Barker, Rider Replacement facility being used for Kennett and a determination to fight for every point as they had done all season. Poole supporters were confident of at the very least matching the 51 points that the Westcolour Gladiators had put on them in the match at The Coliseum to gain the bragging rights at least of an aggregate win and Plymouth supporters were hopeful that the injury ravaged team could at best maintain their record of maintaining the 40 point level of consistency on their travels.
It was a shock opening to the Meeting therefore; when after Howarth had won Heat 1 and Ben Morley had won Heat 2 to have the scores level at 6 points each that the Westcolour Gladiators shocked the Wimborne Road crowd into silence with a stunning 5-1 from Michael Palm-Toft at Kyle Howarth in Heat 3 and a 4-2 Heat successes from Hans Andersen and Morley in Heat 4 and Palm-Toft and Alfie Bowtell in Heat 5. The Westcolour Gladiators ahead 19 points to 11 after 5 races and the Wimborne Road crowd shocked in the way a Wembley Crowd of old would be; if San Marino led England with an early salvo and were still leading after half an hour.
The Pirates scored their first Heat victory with a 4-2 race win in Heat 6 and then came Heat 7, a race full of controversy that will be discussed and analysed for months to come. Kyle Howarth and Michael Palm-Toft lining up against ex-Gladiator Richard Lawson and Drew Kemp for the Pirates. It’s impossible not to mention the sub-plot at this stage in that Lawson has briefly committed to the Gladiators for the 2022 season, before having a change of heart to join the Pirates; which left the Westcolour Gladiator very much in limbo with top end Team Building until very late in the close season/
Howarth and Palm-Toft led from the start before Lawson found a way past Howarth with a lovely legitimate move, he then clashed with Palm-Toft leaving the Danish star in a heap on the track and immediately earned a red exclusion light from experienced Referee Paul Carrington. Palm-Toft after a lengthy delay was able to walk gingerly back to the Pits but was withdrawn from the Meeting by Medical intervention battered and bruised and suffering from concussion. Speedway is a high octane and dangerous sport where riders battle inches apart at high speed with respect between; and of; each other. On occasions accidents happen that impartial observers, and in a sport of this type let’s be honest, few aren’t impartial in some way or the other, can be defined as hard riding or unfair and dangerous riding. With emotions running high in the aftermath and on social media in the hours after the event, suffice to say, it was an incident that will be long discussed.
With the Westcolour Gladiators gaining a 4-2 Heat advantage in the re-run of the Heat, minus the excluded Lawson, the Match scores stood at 25-17 to the Westcolour Gladiators but the reality was that they now faced the remaining 8 heats with only 5 fit riders which included their 2 reserves. The fact that whilst Palm-Toft was incapacitated and unable to take any further part in the meeting but Lawson was able to take a further 4 rides, including one as a Tactical substitute in Heat 9 is a legitimate part of the Sport; but an anomoly that may also be long discussed.
These 2022 Westcolour Gladiators though are no shrinking violets and marshalled superby by Team Manager Garry May and Promoter Mark Phillips delivered another excellent heat success in Heat 8 with a 4-2 courtesy of Bowtell and Morley to stretch the lead to 10 points. Reality though can be cruel and unfair and with Lawson and Steve Worrall combining to optimise Lawsons tactical substitute ride in Heat 9 with a 5-1 for the Pirates; and a further 4-2 heat success in Heat 11 for the Pirates after Alfie Bowtell had been the victim of more hard riding from Lawson in that 11th race, which the referee saw as legitimate; coming after a shared Heat 10, won by Kyle Howarth who was proving to be an outstanding Guest replacement for Barker.
With 4 races remaining and with 5 fit riders and the crucial Heats 13 and 15 to come few would have given the Westcolour Gladiators a chance of holding on to their slender advantage. The incredible spirit of the Westcolour Gladiators though went to new levels with Howarth winning his personal battle with Steve Worrall and Morley winning his personal battle with Nathan Ablitt in Heat 12 to stretch the lead to 6 points. King and Lawson returned fire in Heat 13 with a 4-2 of their own and it set up a monumental Heat 14 with Drew Kemp and Ben Cook for the Pirates and the redoubtable Bowtell and Morley for the Westcolour Gladiators.
A titanic 4 lap struggle ensued and you could have thrown the proverbial blanket over Kemp, Bowtell and Cook on the line, indeed that’s how everyone saw it and what the photo-finish on the live Stream from the excellent Pirates TV suggested, however the Referee saw it as a 5-1 to Poole with Kemp first, Cook second and Bowtell an incredibly unlucky third. NO VAR sadly in Speedway and the 5-1 heat advantage levelled the scores at 42 each before the final race. Incredibly against the kind of Odds not seen since David slung his stone at Goliath, the Westcolour Gladiators had secured a losing Bonus point and maintained their proud record of being the most consistent team in the Championship.
A deciding Heat 15 saw Lawson and King face Howarth and Andersen and when King was rightly excluded by the Referee following a first bend fall, Lawson was left to fight the 2 Gladiators alone. An excellent ride for Lawson it has to be said against the pressing Andersen and Howarth closed a climactic and controversial Meeting and oh “if only”…so many “if only” especially that Heat 14 decision on the line.
The Westcolour Gladiators didn’t as much limp away from Wimborne Road with their pride boosted and 2 league points, as leave morally and rightly victorious ready to fight another day in the Championship and the Summer Cup and looking forwards with spirit higher than ever that this is a special Team, bonded in adversity, honed in battle, fearful of no-one, winning the support of neutrals all over the Country and with rest and recuperation prepared to go to battle again in the exciting weeks ahead.
Massive credit goes to Kyle Howarth, Michael Palm-Toft, Hans Andersen, Alfie Bowtell, Ben Morley, Harry McGurk, Garry May, Mark Phillips , all the Mechanics and Staff for the making of this epic and the memories so far, the sequels await and hopefully you will all spread the word that something very special is happening right in front of your very eyes at The Coliseum in the Ocean City Plymouth….
To be continued…
Poole Pirates = 45
1. Danny King – 2, 3, 2, 3, Fx = 10
2. Zach Cook – 1′, 1, 0, 1′ = 3+2
3. Steve Worrall – 0, 2, 3, 2 = 7
4. Ben Cook – 1, 0, 2′ = 3+1
5. Richard Lawson – 2, Ex, 2′, 3, 1, 3 = 11+1
6. Drew Kemp – 2, 2, 2, 1, 3 = 10
7. Nathan Ablitt – 1′, 0, 0 = 1+1
Plymouth Gladiators = 45
1. Edward Kennett R/R
2. Alfie Bowtell – 0, 1, 3, F, 0, 1 = 5
3. Kyle Howarth (G) – 3, 2′, 3, 3, 3, 1′ = 15+2
4. Michael Palm Toft – 3, 3 = 6 (WITHDRAWN)
5. Hans Andersen – 3, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2 = 12
6. Ben Morley – 3, 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 0 = 7
7. Harry McGurk – 0, 0, 0 = 0
SGB Referee: Paul Carrington
Gates: Poole win the toss and take gates 1 & 3 in heat 1
Heat 01: Howarth, King, Z Cook, Bowtell 3-3
Heat 02: Morley, Kemp, Ablitt, McGurk 3-3 (6-6)
Heat 03: Palm Toft, Howarth, B Cook, Worrall 1-5 (7-11)
Heat 04: Andersen, Lawson, Morley, Ablitt 2-4 (9-15)
Heat 05: Palm Toft, Worrall, Bowtell, B Cook 2-4 (11-19)
Heat 06: King, Andersen, Z Cook, McGurk 4-2 (15-21)
Heat 07: Howarth, Kemp, Morley, Lawson (Ex) 2-4 (17-25)
Heat 08: Bowtell, Kemp, Morley, Z Cook 2-4 (19-29)
Heat 09: Worrall, Lawson, Andersen, McGurk 5-1 (24-30)
Heat 10: Howarth, King, Z Cook, Morley 3-3 (27-33)
Heat 11: Lawson, Andersen, Kemp, Bowtell (F) 4-2 (31-35)
Heat 12: Howarth, Worrall, Morley, Ablitt 2-4 (33-39)
Heat 13: King, Andersen, Lawson, Bowtell 4-2 (37-41)
Heat 14: Kemp, B Cook, Bowtell, Morley 5-1 (42-42)
Heat 15: Lawson, Andersen, Howarth, King (Fx) 3-3 (45-45)
Courtesy of Speedway Updates
Image Credit Jon Sproad