Elite League Speedway
Arena Essex, Purfleet
Attendance: 2,000 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3
With nothing really attractive to me amongst football fixtures in the south-east this Good Friday, with the nearest new ground over 100 miles away, I instead decided to take in a new speedway venue. As the Lakeside Hammers usually race on Friday evenings, it would usually be very difficult for me to visit, but a one o'clock start time on a bank holiday was the perfect time for me to visit. It would also be my first ever taste of top flight speedway.
Arena Essex is accessed by following a track from the first junction to the north of the Dartford Crossing, in close proximity to Thurrock Services and Lakeside Shopping Centre. There is a large car park in front of the main entrance, and spectators enter by one of the bends. Immediately to the right of the entrance is a two storey brick building, with the clubhouse and a balcony providing an excellent view of the track from the first floor, with a cafe on the bottom floor and snack and shop outlets along the front. At the other side of the same bend spectators can look down over the pits area and watch the riders and mechanics preparing for the races ahead. Along the back straight are a couple of small covered areas at the top of the grass bank, and spectators are allowed onto the banger track, which is located all around outside of the speedway track, along this length to get closer to the action. The grass banking continues right the way around the other corner and down the other straight back to the entrance area, with a fairly large stand covering the area by the start/finish line. In all honesty, there is little endearing about this track, set in a rather bleak location, looking rather tired and dated, offers no seating or terracing around the track, and to compare it to the two speedway stadia I have visited previously, its open nature means it lacks the intimacy of Arlington Stadium, home of the Eastbourne Eagles, and lacks the facilities of Foxhall Stadium, home of the Ipswich Witches. The 32 page programme was extremely overpriced at £3.00, although it was glossy, attractively laid out and with some interesting reading material.
This was both teams' first fixture of the season, and they will be looking to improve on their positions last year, when the Lakeside Hammers finished bottom in the eight team division, while the King's Lynn Stars finished just outside the play-offs positions, in fifth place.
On a gloriously warm and sunny afternoon, the meeting started off excitingly enough, with Kings Lynn's Niels Kristian Iversen winning the first heat, although with Hammers’ drivers finishing second and third, the opening heat was tied. That was as good as it got for the Stars though, as the Hammers secured back to back 5-1 successes to open up a commanding 8 point lead. It wasn’t until heat six when the Stars won a heat, to reduce the deficit to 7 points when Iversen made the most of his tactical ride to double his heat win points haul. But after a couple of tied heats, the Hammers' extended their lead and the racing became rather less exciting as the outcome became more and more inevitable, not helped by several heats having to be restarted, the eleventh heat four times. The Stars did not win one further heat overall, with just one heat won by a Stars rider, the penultimate one again by Iversen, as the Hammers secured a whopping winning margin of 20 points. Kim Nilsson top scored for the Hammers, with 13+1 points and Richard Lawson racked up 12+1 points, whilst Niels-Kristian Iversen inevitably top scored for the visitors with 14 points, with Mads Korneliussen on 10 points. But the telling difference was a lack of support from their other Kings Lynn riders.
After this match, the two teams headed up to Norfolk for the reverse fixture, which should have taken place last night but was postponed. The Stars gained revenge on home territory, triumphing by 51-39.