COVENTRY go into action at Peterborough on Sunday lunchtime (midday start) in what is sure to be an emotional occasion for all concerned with the club.
With no home venue and therefore no place in the SGB Premiership league, this is likely to be the only occasion when the intended Bees’ line-up takes to the track as a full team.
A series of other Challenge matches have already been arranged to help raise funds for the riders hit financially by the club’s late withdrawal from competition, and these start at Wolverhampton on April 10.
Since the devastating news, Kenneth Bjerre has secured an alternative team place at Belle Vue, but he lines up at No.5 for Coventry on Sunday at one of his former home tracks.
Five of Coventry’s other riders at least have preparations for the SGB Championship – the league Peterborough themselves compete in – to continue, but James Sarjeant is still desperate to put himself in the shop window for a team place in either league.
Sarjeant said: “I’ve got to try and get myself as many meetings as I can, and individuals.
“I’ll probably try and get a job and get a bit of money until I get a team. I’ve got to stay positive and I’m 100 per cent ready for when a team comes in.”
Coventry supporters are expected to head for the East of England Showground in big numbers on Sunday, as they visit what was always a popular away venue when the clubs were both members of the Elite League.
Their paths appeared to cross regularly in the KO Cup with two of their ties in the early 2000s actually requiring replays – whilst the narrow league match win in September 2010 and subsequent play-off semi-final victory are both meetings which have lived long in the memory as the Bees made their charge to the title.
The two clubs then made a late start to the 2011 season after the much-publicised ‘winter of discontent’ but their home-and-away Good Friday clashes produced some of the most sensational speedway of recent years.
The 2017 Peterborough team is much-changed from last season, but there are a couple of Coventry connections.
Kenneth Hansen, a renowned Showground specialist, rode for the Bees in 2014 and has now re-joined the Panthers after a spell with Workington.
Meanwhile at reserve Tom Bacon is based in Coventry and grew up watching the Bees, with his father Mike having represented the club at both junior and senior level in the mid-1980s.
Coventry will be managed by Gary Havelock on Sunday, as the 1992 World Champion makes a one-off return after spending the last four seasons in charge of the Bees.
Havelock left Coventry at the end of the 2016 campaign in order to take his place in a three-man consortium who are now in charge of Championship club Berwick, and he admits he can’t believe the turn of events.
He said: “If anyone was looking at the bigger picture, they’d think I’d had some kind of foresight of what was going to happen.
“Everything seemed okay when I handed in my resignation in October, but it’s all fallen apart since then, and I had no idea about it.
“I’m looking forward to Sunday, it will be nice to see everyone, but I just think what’s happened is tragic, wrong, and I really feel for the fans and the riders.”
Peterborough have also arranged for a number of former Coventry riders and managers to be present, and some of the club’s intended 2017 merchandise will be on sale at the Track Shop.
Fans are encouraged to bring as much Coventry branding as possible in the way of banners, flags, scarves etc, as this is an ideal opportunity for photographs to support the campaign.
Panthers promoter Ged Rathbone said: “There is no doubt in my mind that British Speedway needs a big club like Coventry.
“It’s brilliant that all seven of their intended riders for 2017 have agreed to race on Sunday, and I know they are keen to put on a good show.
“I’m hoping as many Coventry fans as possible will make the short trip over to the East of England Showground. It is a chance for them to be seen and heard.”
PETERBOROUGH: Jack Holder, Simon Lambert, Paul Starke, Ulrich Ostergaard, Kenneth Hansen, Bradley Wilson-Dean, Tom Bacon. COVENTRY: Danny King, Lewis Kerr, Jason Garrity, Lasse Bjerre, Kenneth Bjerre, James Sarjeant, Josh Bates.
FUND RAISING - HELP THE RIDERS
Weʼre raising £10,000 to offer support to the Bees riders who have suffered financially as a result of the withdrawal of Coventry Speedway from the SGB Premiership.