Warriors on the warpath!
It promises to be an exciting season for Wightlink Warriors and their fans as speedway returns to Smallbrook Stadium this April.
Barry Bishop and Martin Widman, co-promoters of the Warriors, have ambitious plans to transform Smallbrook into the Island’s leading sports complex, as well as making Thursdays a speedway fun night out for all the family.
Barry and Martin took on the challenge of bringing speedway back to the Island last summer after a two-year absence. But that was only a small part of their scheme to pull in fans of all ages, and provide value for money entertainment at the Smallbrook complex on the edge of Ryde.
Music festival ‘Jack Up the 80s’ and the Scooter Festival are already booked at Smallbrook for this year, and they need support to make the complex self-sufficient. Barry, also commercial director, said: “My dream is to make it the centre of all activity on the Island. It is ideally located, has plenty of space, and already has speedway, table tennis, cycling, Ryde Harriers, football, archery, cricket, remote control cars and hockey.
“But they are all individual companies, so the actual premises is finding it difficult to survive, because virtually everyone does everything voluntarily. I find myself deeply in love with this place, but it is hard to get other people to see how it needs to be in order to survive, and not become a housing estate. But without input and activity, that is what it is going to become.
“It is not an IW Council-run facility. It is privately leased from the Council; so we don’t own it, we rent it. But if we can’t pay the rent, we turn off the lights.”
That is why Barry and Martin are having to constantly think ‘outside the box’. Barry continued: “With the Warriors we are doing things differently — making it a fun-filled family night. There were 50 spectators coming when it closed; last season we were having 700, and that was down to making it affordable and a family night out. This year I want to double that figure.”
Wightlink Warriors will compete in the third tier of British speedway, the National League, which means all their riders are UK nationals. They finished eighth last year, which was a good start, but more importantly spectators were enjoying themselves. Kids were out on the track at half time, competing in hula hoop competitions, a scooter race, and running competitions, and this year the half time entertainment will be even bigger and better. There’s talk of other projects – maybe a drive-in cinema or giant bouncy castles at Smallbrook – anything that will bring in much-needed revenue and keep the punters happy. David Cotton Speedway is held on most Thursday evenings at Smallbrook, and the new season starts with two special meetings. The first, on April 13th, is in memory of Vince Mapley, who died at Smallbrook while doing voluntary work last year. The following week there’s the Bryn Williams Celebration meeting in memory of the former stadium announcer who also died recently. The Warriors will be facing Weymouth on April 20th, and the meeting is free for anyone on the Island as a tribute to Bryn, and to say ‘thank you’ to those who have supported and sponsored Wight Warriors.