Chris Louis big Q&A: What now for the Witches? What now for speedway?
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Witches' season is already over. While the Premiership title is yet to be decided, the Witches can only sit back and watch. MIKE BACON spoke to promoter CHRIS LOUIS...
Well, Chris, 2021 was a huge disappointment for the club and its fans.
Yes, of course it was.
Much has been said about injuries and what not and of course it didn't help our cause, but I think the underlying derailment of our season was never having a No.1.
And that's not picking on Jason. We took a gamble on Jason and to be honest I think it nearly paid off. Had he not got injured the way he did at Wolverhampton, okay, he may not have had the consistency that people remember from Jason, but in the main he would have acted as a reasonable No.1 in that league.
But when we lost him, we got let down by pretty much nearly all of our guests, only on probably one occasion did we have a guest who actually did a No.1 job. We weren't able to replace Jason then it looked like he was coming back sooner than he was and when he did he wasn't really fit. It just fell apart at the No.1 position.
Jason rode himself into the No.1 position, then got injured, simple as that.
Is top priority the No.1 position for next season then Chris?
Well, yes, what it has shown us is that for any length of time you can't not have a No. 1
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If you look back through, we probably only had a No.1 for three meetings, and look at our record, that's exactly what it shows.
You have to have a good, solid leader. Of course we've learned from it, but it's also tough at the moment because there is a lack of those riders. It doesn't matter which team loses one, you're in trouble. I think we have to look at that as a sport and a league. But of course, I have to learn, Ritchie Hawkins has to learn from this year.
If Jason wants to come back, are you snapping him up for 2022?
Well, of course. His average is now realistic but there is a lot of water to go under the bridge to know what we are facing next year, to know what the points limit will be and all the things that go into speedway before I could possibly comment on any individuals to be honest.
The support at Foxhall has been brilliant, however Chris.
Yes. It's been by far the biggest positive. There haven't been many positives it's fair to say at Ipswich. I think the racing has been quite good, although not as consistent as I would have liked.
We've worked very hard to get a track that gives us the best racing and I think again we learned a lot this year. There were some very good meetings in terms of racing and the support, as I said, was brilliant.
The fans came and they watched. I hope the fans felt comfortable and safe when the restrictions were in place at the start.
I'm so pleased with the support and backing we have had this year despite everything. It shows we are a speedway town. Sadly, we didn't perform for our sponsors and fans and I feel especially bad about that. No-one wants Ipswich to win more than I do. I can assure you.
Team boss Ritchie Hawkins sometimes gets some stick from fans.
The team call me the boss and Ritchie the gaffer. So, as the boss, he's got my full support. The team's performance really wasn't a reflection of Ritchie and his work and what he did.
Yes, of course, like anybody in any job, I don't think it was the perfect performance. He probably made a couple of mistakes, just like I did, you do and everyone does.
But our year's performance was not a reflection of Ritchie's work and I think he does a good job and he's had some great years so far with the club. And there have been times, like all teams in all sports where you think you fell short.
But also under his guidance I've looked at some seasons where I've thought, wow, he's done really great with that team.
He's got my 100% backing. And I know he'll look back on this season and say, 'I'm putting that right.' His position at the club isn't even up for discussion as far as I'm concerned.
But a trophy still hasn't arrived for a very long time now, Chris in the Foxhall trophy cabinet.
Well, it's getting frustrating now because in the Championship/Premier League when we were in it, we did come close on a couple of occasions.
And then of course we move up into the top-flight and immediately make a final and then fall apart at that final stage. So, a lot of frustration.
We know the tools are there from the fan base that we have, from the fantastic sponsors we have. We are a very lucky club to have what we have and we need to start repaying it to those people and of course the fans, very soon.
I certainly don't want another year like this year.
Your thoughts on the state of speedway in general. Some fans suggest it is dying.
There is a lot of pros and cons and yes of course it is a sport that is struggling a bit. You can't hide away from that fact.
It's coming off the back of a recovery period, as is every sport and alot of businesses due to 2020 and all that went on.
And it's strange because this year was very good for some clubs, and we were one of them, thanks to the support, which was great.
So, yes, it's a sport that's struggling, but there are shoots of growth.
Eurosport is moving in the right direction. It's going to take a year, this year to develop that partnership and relationship. But it will. And there is a realisation brought about by what happened in 2020 that we need to develop our home-grown talent, not least of all to fill our teams.
We need to look local. We need to look to those heady days of the late 70s with a team born and bred in Suffolk and Ipswich. Okay, we are not going to get back to that again, few, if any sports are. There are more foreign imports and that's the way of the world and no bad thing.
But we need local riders. We've had my dad, we've had Jeremy Doncaster, me, Scott Nicholls. We've had a lot of success locally here at Ipswich and we need to have more.
Your thoughts on the domestic leagues and doubling-up riders?
The leagues need to forge a gap between themselves. We've got to get to the point where we do attract some of those top riders back.
And doubling-up has got to go eventually. It won't be for a few years because it can't. But it has got to go.
Riders, in my opinion, are way too much over-exposed. The days when you had the big crowds was simply because it was the only time you were going to see your Ole Olsens, Ivan Maugers or Peter Collins. That's what we need to get back to.
We need the crowds to get excited about seeing that star rider they don't get to see every other week.
Doubling up is a concern. But don't think it goes beyond us. We see it, we know it. And, as I said, the reason I'm sort of buoyed is that I know everyone in the sport now sees it. I may have been banging a few drums about it in years gone by, but everyone sees it now. There are a few important things we need to work on to put the sport in a better place.
It's a shame we didn't do something about doubling-up three or four years ago because we would be almost done by now.
But we need to make a start to getting rid, or limiting it.