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ELITE LEAGUE: Pirates 46 Lakeside 44
EVERYBODY in attendance here last night should feel proud of what they did for the shale sport.
The brave riders put on an excellent show that was capped by a thrilling last-heat finale.
Respectful spectators observed a minute’s silence in the most exemplary manner.
Dignified officials organised an excellent pre-meeting tribute.
And then the eloquent Davey Watt spoke from the heart and with genuine emotion to earn deserved applause from the Pirates faithful.
Everybody contributed to what was a poignant celebration of the late Lee Richardson.
Writing in his programme notes, Pirates chief Ford had said the night belonged to Richardson. He also said he was sure both teams would put on a show worthy of a “truly great rider”. Ford was correct on both counts.
When crowds flock to Wimborne Road, they are always united by a common goal.
This was again the case but, in the most terrible of circumstances, for very different reasons.
For once at Poole Stadium, the shared desire was not simply to see a home victory. Even in top-level sport, sometimes there are more important things than the result.
The mood was sombre, warm and respectful as the fans paid their own tribute to Richardson.
Every time their heroes climb into the saddle, they put their bodies on the line in a bid to entertain. Richardson’s tragic death on Sunday night, following a crash while competing in Poland, brought home the risks riders take.
The 33-year-old, who leaves wife Emma and three sons, had been set to feature in this fixture as the captain of table-topping Lakeside Hammers.
As visiting promoter Jon Cook pointed out during a centre green interview, Poole was a fitting venue for Lakeside to take the difficult step back into action.
Richardson, a former mainstay of Neil Middleditch’s Great Britain team, is fondly remembered in Dorset after serving Pirates with distinction in 1996 and 1999.
A standing ovation was afforded to both teams as they were led by club management and officials in a walk from the pits to stand in front of the grandstand.
With heads bowed and hands linked, Ford and Cook set the tone for an immaculately observed silence. The task then facing the riders was to put on a fitting performance. They did not disappoint.
In a hard-fought contest between two of the Elite League’s title favourites, it could hardly have been closer.
Pirates, already without the unavailable Dennis Andersson and Ricky Kling, saw injured Sam Masters withdraw so Todd Kurtz deputised and Mateusz Szczepaniak, unfortunate to miss out on a permanent place in the team, was drafted in as a guest.
Captain Chris Holder began proceedings in familiar fashion to win untroubled before Szczepaniak followed suit. Kyle Howarth, battling Robert Mear, gave supporters something to cheer when he darted under his rival to secure a heat advantage.
Watt, back on familiar territory having led Pirates to a memorable double last term, held off a charge from Darcy Ward to inflict a rare defeat on his compatriot. In another shared heat, the impressive Watt made it back-to-back wins as he out-gated Adrian Miedzinski.
Exceptional in Pirates’ recent away win over Lakeside, Ward quickly returned to winning ways in heat five.
Holder continued his supreme form in a shared heat following Szczepaniak’s unfortunate exclusion.
Inspired by Watt, Hammers hit the front when the Aussie ace racked up the first 5-1 of the night alongside Kauko Nieminen in heat eight. Lakeside then took a major step towards a shock win by opening up an eight-point cushion thanks to a Richie Worrall and Stuart Robson maximum.
Szczepaniak, who had fallen for the third time of the night in the previous race, was then sent out as rider replacement in race nine to some raised eyebrows in the grandstand.
But fans soon changed their tune when he roared around Robson to make an audacious move stick and back up winner Ward to reduce the deficit.
Holder produced a trademark display to finally halt Watt’s winning streak in heat 10.
Peter Karlsson made the most of an untidy opening bend from Miedzinski to ensure the advantage remained at six points with just four races to go.
Ward again took the chequered flag before Miedzinski and Holder combined to put Pirates back in with a shout – their maximum heat win cutting the Hammers advantage to just two.
Miedzinski bagged another win in the penultimate clash to set up a nail-biting finale – with Turbo Twins Holder and Ward paired in a bid to save the day.
Jet propelled from the tapes, a scintillating early burst put the duo in charge and the verdict was never in doubt as they completed a remarkable turnaround.
Understandably, the celebrations were more low key than usual.
The final say went to Watt, who brilliantly spoke with emotion about the difficulty of the occasion and warmly paid tribute to his late colleague.
He summed up the mood perfectly and did his sport proud. They all did.