Owner Ged Rathbone claimed he has been ‘stitched up’ by one of the most powerful men in British speedway as the saga surrounding the future of Peterborough Panthers took a shock twist last night (October 15).
Rathbone dropped the astonishing bombshell in a tannoy tirade following the city club’s 50-40 victory against holders Glasgow in the first leg of an SGB Championship KO Cup semi-final at the East of England Arena.
He insisted the vice chairman of the British Speedway Promoter’s Association (BSPA) - Rob Godfrey of Scunthorpe - advised him to release top rider Jack Holder to race for Polish club Torun in return for a financial payment. Holder missed three Panthers fixtures - the Fours (which Panthers won without him) and two subsequent August league meetings.
Rathbone then had his promoters’ licence suspended before being hit with a heavy fine by the Speedway Control Bureau (to the same value of the payment received from Torun) earlier this month. He has also been ordered to offer free admission to Panthers’ first league meeting of 2018 - if the club is still going then.
“I’ve decided to go public with the full story regarding what happened with Jack racing in Poland,” Rathbone told supporters last night.
“The second Torun rang me, I contacted the vice chairman and asked for his advice which was to take the money.
“I was told the worst case scenario would be a £500 fine for each meeting that Jack missed - and that is something I was prepared to accept.
“The same guy then stitched me up two days after the Fours.”
Rathbone later expanded on the situation in a media interview. He admitted the five-figure sum received from Torun has already been spent on clearing loans and improving Panthers’ finances.
And he revealed he will take time out at the end of the campaign to consider his own position in the sport.
“I’ll probably get the book thrown at me yet again, and it is sad it has come to this,” continued Rathbone. “But the written findings of the SCB hearing make mention of the fact that I was ill advised.
“Running a speedway club is damn hard work and comes with a lot of sleepless nights. I am not a rich man - I’m just a normal guy with a normal job.
“The whole idea was that we could make next year easier and recoup some of the money - which is probably pushing close to £100,000 - that we’ve invested in the club.
“People must realise that 20 per cent of the money we received from Poland goes straight away on tax and the rest has been used to pay bills and put us on a better footing financially.
“To then be hit with having to give free admission for the first league meeting of next season means we would also face losing another 10-15k.
“That would just leave us chasing our tails for an entire season and we simply can’t cover that in speedway.
“I need to have two-or-three weeks away from speedway to have a serious think about the future.
“I’ve got to try to understand whether I can stay out of trouble and away from the politics, and if I’ve still got enough left in me to carrying on doing the best I can for Peterborough Speedway, or whether the club gets sold, or worst case scenario disappears.”
The night also began with a surprise announcement as long-serving promoter Trevor Swales is to step aside at the end of the current season.
Swales has enjoyed a long association with the club which stretches back to a solitary appearance as a rider in the 1970s.
He has held a stack of off-track positions and was the team manager who guided Panthers to their famous Elite League title triumph of 2006.