Special feature insight: Where it all went wrong for Sheffield’s speedway team

Lasse Bjerre in the lead. Pic by Phil Lanning
Lasse Bjerre in the lead. Pic by Phil Lanning

Sheffield team boss Simon Stead admitted that it had been an “annus horribilis” for the defending league champions.

The Tigers dreams of winning back-to-back were shattered by a completely unexpected late season slump in form.

With just one meeting left at Redcar on Friday night, Stead believes the heartbreaking end to the campaign will only serve to motivate the club for the 2019 season.

But he admits that 2018 still hurts right now.

He revealed: “I think it was The Queen who brought the phrase annus horribilis to prominence, well it’s very apt for us. It was definitely a horrible year that’s for sure.

“To be quite honest, in speedway, it is always harder to defend a title than win it in the first place. The points limit always dictate that winning teams are punished and have to lose a rider usually.

Lasse Bjerre

Lasse Bjerre

“That happened with us, we had to lose our leader Josh Grajczonek and that was always going to be a big ask to cover for him.

“We then had to produce a team on paper that would all up their averages. The key man was Josh Bates, our trump card. We knew he was a five or six-point man who could deliver 12 at home and nine away.

“But we lost him for the season in freak circumstances before a wheel had even turned. He broke his back in a sledging injury in the final snowfall in March. It took some time to realise how long he would be out.

“It was a body blow to be fair. You could actually say we never recovered from that moment. I felt we were chasing our backsides from that moment. We drafted in Jan Graversen to cover for Josh but we lacked engine room power in the side and it left us very vulnerable early in the season.”

Broc Nichol and Simon Stead. Pic by Phil Lanning

Broc Nichol and Simon Stead. Pic by Phil Lanning

When Bates was finally declared out for the season, the Tigers’

management swooped for young American Broc Nicol and added Georgie Wood to bolster the reserve berth.

Nicol won a race on his debut against Glasgow on June 24, with the Owlerton side smashing their Play-Off rivals by 22 points, followed by easy home wins over Scunthorpe in the KO Cup and Ipswich in the Championship. The signing looked like a game-changer.

Gritty top two Charles Wright and Kyle Howarth produced a terrific performance to defend the club’s Championship Pairs crown at Somerset and Howarth admitted he wanted the team to “kick on” from that first silverware success of the season.

But inexplicably the wheels came off thereafter. It’s incredible to think that the Tigers failed to win another meeting after July 5.

Four successive home defeats to Lakeside, Scunthorpe, Redcar and Newcastle - the latter three not even Play-Off chasers - ripped the heart of the Sheffield spirit.

Stead continued: “I can’t even put my finger on what happened. The Lakeside defeat at home just started a spiral of losing confidence by every meeting.

“It just got worse from then on. I worked so hard on each rider individually to try and build the spirit and confidence but it didn’t happen quick enough collectively.

“We had to make some late changes to shake it up again but the game was up by then anyway. It’s just mystifying why the wheels came off so dramatically. There were absolutely no signs that was going to happen.

“But this is a strong club. We will all come back more determined to succeed after the disappointments. It just serves to make you even more fired-up to get it right in 2019.”

2018

INS

Kyle Howarth

Charles Wright

Todd Kurtz

James Shanes

Broc Nicol

Kasper Andersen

Connor Mountain

OUTS

Josh Bates (injured)

Jan Graversen

Jack Smith

Lasse Bjerre

Georgie Wood