Rathbone sold Panthers to complete five-year plan

Ged Rathbone.
Ged Rathbone.
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Ged Rathbone insists selling Panthers was the only way he could complete a five-year plan for the city club.

Rathbone struck a deal with British Speedway Promoters’ Association (BSPA) chairman Keith ‘Buster’ Chapman following the sport’s annual meeting last week.

Buster Chapman.

Buster Chapman.

Chapman’s purchase has enabled Panthers to climb back into the sport’s top flight – the SGB Premiership – for the first time since 2013, but Rathbone will remain in place as promoter to run the club on a day-to-day basis.

“From the first day I took over the club at the end of 2014, my intention has always been to take Peterborough back to the highest level,” said Rathbone.

“We had a five-year plan to do that and we have managed to achieve it going into the fifth year.

“It was very obvious I couldn’t afford to make the plan come to fruition, but Mr Chapman’s purchase means it can now happen.

“I looked at all options on the table and I feel this is the right move to bring stability to this club and also to the Premiership.

“There was the option to stay in the SGB Championship after balancing the books and keeping our heads above water for four successive seasons in an era when many clubs are reporting losses.

“I’m proud of that but my body and mind were tired and I knew I couldn’t give the same level of commitment as in previous years.

“I made the decision to put the club on the market and I did stress at that time I would work alongside any suitable party who showed interest.

“Buster came forward and it was clear he shared my ambition and intention for the club to be in the SGB Premiership, but he couldn’t make that happen by himself. He requested that myself and my management team stay on to run the club which we are doing.”

Rathbone said his phone has been red-hot in the past week with riders keen to be part of Panthers’ return to the SGB Premiership.

He said: ““We’ve already been inundated with riders keen to race for the club.”

Rathbone has urged supporters to continue to back Panthers in their new era.

Rathbone remains in day-to-day control of the East of England Arena club following its sale to Keith ‘Buster’ Chapman last week.

Their alliance has brought about a return to the SGB Premiership for 2019 which means a return to midweek racing. Panthers are likely to stage the majority of home meetings on Thursdays with some Monday fixtures.

“I am now asking the fans to continue backing both myself and the club,” said Rathbone.

“Racing on Sundays has been popular in recent years in the SGB Championship, but it became very apparent towards the end of last season that fans stayed away when we weren’t able to track a full team.

“Supporters want to see their own one to seven and I believe with fixed race-nights that will happen on a regular basis next season.

“The fans can look forward to seeing a higher calibre of rider, but they will still get exactly the same interaction with them that has happened in the past few years in the Championship.”

Panthers’ crowds are understood to have averaged just below the 1,000 mark last season.

Rathbone says the first aim will be to keep hold of that fan-base before hopefully seeing it grow in the top-flight.

He added: “It goes without saying that we need to maintain attendances as a minimum, but I would hope that we can add to the numbers coming through the gate.

“I know of people who have stayed away since the club was last in the Elite League, as it was called then, and hopefully anyone who took that stance will now return next season.

“We will work tirelessly behind the scenes and I guarantee any rider who pulls on our kevlars will give more than 100 per cent, but the backing of the fans is still greatly needed and very much appreciated as it makes a real difference.”

Rathbone is confident he can enjoy a fine working relationship with new Panthers owner Keith ‘Buster’ Chapman.

The two men were involved in an infamous row last year when British Speedway Promoters’ Association chief Chapman accused Rathbone of ‘selling British speedway down the river’.

It came after he controversially allowed the club’s number one rider at the time, Jack Holder, to miss Panthers meetings – including the prestigious SGB Championship Fours (which they won without him) - to race in Poland.

But Rathbone stressed: “My relationship with Buster has never been better. The past is the past – it’s as simple as that. People can’t afford to hold grudges and I’m only interested in what lies ahead.

“The whole reason I came into speedway was to try to make a difference with the sport.

“I feel I’ve done that in the Championship and now the challenge is to do it at the highest level.”

The fact that Rathbone is staying on in the sport at all came as a surprise to many.

He previously admitted that the huge amount of travelling to Peterborough from his Middlesbrough base had taken its toll.

But he believes it will be more manageable in the top-flight, adding: “I never ruled out staying. In fact I had assured supporters I would stay on if no deal could be done, or if the new owner wished to work with me.

“We will have fewer meetings than in the majority of recent seasons and it is also no longer essential for me to attend every single away meeting.”