SPEEDWAY: The weird world of a Peterborough Panthers fans’ forum

Panthers boss Ged Rathbone.
Panthers boss Ged Rathbone.
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These events have a habit of veering between the factual and the farcical in a split-second.

But this Tuesday night session at the East of England Showground was rather refreshing.

It was heavy enough to put a healthy turnout of approximately 150 fans firmly in the loop about plans for the future and it was also light enough to keep them well entertained.

‘Bitesize chunks of information intertwined with occasional outbreaks of humour’ is how it might be described if it were a dish on a menu.

Promoter Ged Rathbone is clearly still in the honeymoon period with the Panthers faithful after making a huge impact during his first season at the helm.

“If there was an award for the best promoter in speedway, you would win it,” Rathbone was told by one supporter. “That really does mean a lot to me,” he replied.

It was one of very few occasions when he struggled for something to say. Rathbone is generally a comfortable orator who tends to make his point in a very matter of fact way.

He’s not afraid to throw in a quip or ten either. When asked about his masterplan for 2016, he took a deep breath and said: “Go on holiday.”

On a serious note, Rathbone did everything accept provide a concrete confirmation that Panthers will be at the tapes next season.

There was the use of plenty of encouraging language though including ‘massively realistic to think we can be back on track in 2016’ and ‘hopefully we’ll be in a position to tell you more next week’.

The picture will no doubt become clearer once he and fellow promoter Trevor Swales have attended the British Speedway Promoters’ Association (BSPA) annual meeting this weekend. They presumably have two days of opulence interrupted by occasional decision-making ahead of them.

Rathbone also reiterated on a number of occasions that important meetings lie ahead with their East of England Showground landlords and the club owners, Rick Frost and Julie Mahoney, who also served as main sponsors through their Readypower firm this year.

The suggestion is that significantly more Sunday meetings could feature in the 2016 schedule – something that did not go down badly at all.

‘What was your favourite away win of the season?’ was the question that drew probably the longest response from Rathbone.

“Sheffield in the play-offs,” was the answer he eventually settled on after giving a detailed account of the treatment his team received at Owlerton Stadium on the night of the quarter-final first leg. He also admitted he was happy to respond to the Tigers’ ‘dirty tricks’ with a few of his own in the second leg.

The ‘why was Robert Lambert sacked?’ poser also received plenty of air-time with Rathbone insisting: “No-one is bigger than Peterborough Speedway even if they think they are.

“Robert is a quality rider, but we did not enjoy our time working alongside him and decided as a club to bring it to an end.”

But Rathbone instantly rebuffed a suggestion he should again ask for pledges from supporters to ensure Panthers can race on.

“No way am I getting the begging bowls out again,” he insisted. “It was something we had to do last winter, but it is not something we will consider again.

“The club needs to be able to stand on its own two feet and that is what we are working towards.

“We will again strive to make our commercial packages affordable and we will look to give fans as much value as we can when pricing up season tickets.”

Equally as encouraging was Rathbone’s description of the club’s financial situation - in a nutshell everyone from riders to landlords have been paid promptly and in full despite the club still being owed money by a number of their rivals.

And just as upbeat was confirmation of increased crowds on a consistent basis during 2015 culminating in terrific turnouts during the play-offs.

Joint team boss Carl Johnson was also quick to thank a loyal band of travelling supporters who have followed the club on their travels to some of the most distant points in the UK.

Johnson did not attempt to hide his desire to stay on either - “I’m going nowhere unless I’m pushed,” – whereas fellow team boss Dale Allitt was slightly more circumspect as he said: “I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here and we’ll have to see how the land lies going forward.”

As for Swales, he didn’t say a lot, but he is part of the Peterborough Speedway furniture after racking up many years of service.

And then there were the lighter tales of a referee unwittingly stopping a race with her breast (long story involving leaning over the control box and accidentally nudging the red lights on), a promoter renowned for falling asleep in important meetings (someone has to nudge him when it’s time to vote) and a current Panthers rider who has a cat named after him (there is also a moggy version of Michael Palm Toft somewhere in the March area).

Palm Toft (the human) was an unexpected but welcome addition to a panel including all four members of the club’s management – Rathbone, fellow promoter Swales, Johnson and Allitt.

He is a funny and popular man who said all the things you would expect a rider to say at the end of a good season.

He’d clearly like to be back in 2016 – something which Rathbone insists applies to almost all members of the team which finished the season.

World Under 21 Championship runner-up Anders Thomsen is the exception as he is likely to move on to ‘bigger and better things’ in the words of the Panthers supremo.

You sense the club might do that as well under Rathbone’s regime.