2020 - Present
(Season was suspended due to Covid-19)
Decision made to step down for the start of the twenties, there followed a year's delay as the 2020 season was wiped out, domestically, due to Covid-19 and there were doubts in the early months of 2021 that Poole would ever be able to get their 'step down' off the ground, as the stadium's only occupants were the Pirates once the Greyhound operation had been moved to Swindon.
Determined though to race on, Dan Ford, assuming the day-to-day reponsibilites with father Matt 'locked out' due to travel restrictions, was about to embark on a baptism of fire. A change to team building policy meant the Pirates had to release one of three Australians they had brought in, initially for 2020, and it was Josh MacDonald who was the rider to miss out. There was a further change of direction when Polish legislation meant Adam Ellis had to choose between riding in the Premiership with Swindon or Poole in the Championship. With the top flight his preferred option the Fords had to seek out a suitable replacement, a bill that Rory Schlein, the reigning British Champion, inspite of his Australian heritage, met perfectly, after he became available when Somerset announced their intention not to operate in 2021, a decision that later became a permanent measure. Schlein was in his swansong season, his 21st in the UK but still bolstered the Pirates' top end, joining a former British champion, Danny King and top championship performer Steve Worrall. UK debutants Ben Cook and Zane Keleher were the two Australians who kept their places from the planned 2020 team, with Stefan Nielsen returning too, after a 2018 injury curtailed his earlier Pirates career. To comply with the Rising Star scheme, Danyon Hume was signed up and the Pirates were being strongly fancied in some quarters but written off in others.
The season eventually got underway in May although not at Wimborne Road, as stadium access was still an issue. Returning from Eastbourne with a league point was a disappointment as Poole were in command for much of the meeting and then a trip to Glasgow, behind closed doors, left Poole a man down when Schlein crashed out in the opening heat. The first home meeting was 'celebrated' against Berwick on June 4th and was Poole's first win of the campaign, a comfortable one at that, just before the season was to be further hit by delays amids increased Covid-19 outbreaks.
The Pirates' KO Cup fixture pushed back from mid-May was held at Plymouth and an eight point win set the foundation for a cup run, but it was to be the end of June before Poole raced again, recording another big home win, with Schlein fit again and Kent sent packing along with Zane Keleher, with Czechian Ondrej Smetana being signed as his replacement, although travel restrictions prevented him from taking his place in the league fixture at Plymouth, where Keleher was lining up for his new club. Poole came away having secured an away draw at Plymouth, yet again the points yield should have been greater.
With the hope of a more regular run of meetings, Poole began by finishing off that first round cup tie against the Devon club, hitting the sixty mark. Away league victories at Leicester, where home defeats were as rare as hen's teeth, and Kent, the first time ever a Poole team had ridden at Central Park followed and a swift double completed against Leicester as Poole began to put some form together.
By this stage of the season, the Pirates had given up on the problems of getting Smetana to the UK and turned their attentions to an unknown Dane, Ben Basso. In line with all the frustrations that young Ford had encountered in his first year at the helm, Basso's next contact after the ink had dried on his contract was a call to say that he had tested positive for Covid-19 as he was about to head over to the UK, and therefore wouldn't be able to join his new teammates on the Northern tour, which was due to happen 48 hours after fending off the visit of a spirited Edinburgh side, who left Wimborne Road with a consolation league point.
A turn in the weather caused the first leg of the Pirates three stop tour, Edinburgh, to be rained off, the second stop at Berwick yielding a point, before they trounced Newcastle on what might well have been the last ever meeting at Brough Park, although subsequently the Diamonds were saved and are expected to be back at tapes in 2022.
The victory moved the Pirates into second place in the table, matches in hand on leaders Glasgow and third placed Edinburgh. An outbreak though of Covid-19 infections amongst stadium and track staff forced an unwanted postponement of another home meeting, Redcar who at the time were on a southern tour, unfortunately having to reschedule. A week later when racing resumed, Poole dealt firmly with Scunthorpe and then headed off to the north-east again to face Redcar, complete with Basso in tow, and he rapidly made a name for himself. This was another fixture Poole should have won, allowing an early lead to be overturned in the latter stages, but they did hold on for an away point which enabled them to go top of the table, as no fewer than five clubs - Poole, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Redcar and Scunthorpe - standing on 31 points.
They were to be spectacularly separated without turning a wheel, as news broke that Eastbourne had hit financial difficulties and were shutting up shop immediately. Poole lost just one point, Redcar and Edinburgh unaffected, but Glasgow and Scunthorpe have three points each deducted. With Poole claiming a double over Newcastle and then returning to Scotland to defeat Edindburgh convincingly before maintaining that home form with a solid victory over Birminghan, the league tables published for the end of August had the Pirates a healthy five points clear at the top of Redcar, with Glasgow a further five points back in third place but with meetings in hand.
September started disastrously for Poole, a defeat under extremely difficult track conditions at Birmingham in a meeting that saw Stefan Nielsen's season come to, yet another, premature end as a Pirate. Significantly, the transfer deadline had just passed and that meant no chance of bringing in a permanent solution to cover his position and so there would have to be a reliance on guests. Home wins over Glasgow and Plymouth, with the Pirates hitting high fifties in both preceeded a defeat at Scunthorpe before a mid-month cup semi-final first leg defeat at Leicester, but only by eight points, a margin they were able to overturn less than a fortnight later at Wimborne Road to guarantee a shot at some silverware against Scottish opponents, as Edinburgh and Glasgow were the other semi-finalists.
In between that cup-tie the Pirates completed their league campaign with a home win over Redcar, ensuring a semi-final place in the play-offs and choice of opponents. Leicester were the selected side but with dates rapidly running out, the Pirates had to forego the right to have the second leg at Wimborne Road. They did beat the Lions by six points and sensationally turned the Leicester side over yet again in the East Midlands and there it was, another final and unbelievably, again, it was certain to involve a trip to Scotland.
Edinburgh prevailed in the Knockout cup and a great performance at Armadale saw the Pirates bank a five point advantage and on 27th October they finished the job in style, beating the Monarchs by twenty-four points in the second leg. The Knockout trophy that effectively they had won back in 1990, was back in the trophy cabinet. October was quickly drawing to a close and the play-off final, in which Glasgow were eventually confirmed as fellow finalists, still had to be completed. It was apparent that with a downturn in weather - Scotland suffering major floods just days before hosting the COP26 Climate conference - an extension to the season was required and so into November the play-offs went.
November 2nd Poole travelled to Glasgow and came away having been defeated by ten points. The league and Cup double looking under threat, but the Pirates class of 21 was nothing if not resilient, and they rose to the occasion perfectly, had pulled back that first leg deficit after eight heats at Wimborne Road and sealed the title with a race to spare. It was a fitting end to a season that saw great character from a solid Poole Pirate outfit and resolute in making 2021 his last season, Rory Schlein could lay claim to being a double winner to sign his UK career out on.
Deciding who to retain from their top three was made easy for the Poole promotion with Rory Schlein's retirement, but his replacement turned out to be a late surprise. Basso had been tempted by the Glasgow Tigers and when Richard Lawson, expected to be Plymouth-bound, had a change of heart, the wheels were put in motion for an exchange deal between the previous year's finalists. Ben Cook had shown sufficient improvement to be retained and, impressed by the solid performances of brother Zach it was little wonder that the Cowra-boys would be team-mates for their second British term. In addition, promising GB international Drew Kemp was signed up whilst Nathan Ablitt made the big step-up from National League into the Championship.
Incredibly, for the first time since 1999, the Pirates were able to stick with all those seven and throughout the campaign used only two guests and operated rider replacement just twice and so it was on the basis of a regular one-to-seven that the Pirates were able to defend the double, achieved in 2021 and with an extra tournament, initially labelled the Summer League, but then, in honour of the now late Queen Elizabeth II, rebranded the Jubilee Trophy being added to the curriculum, there was goal of making it a 2022 treble. Sadly, though, the season concluded with the final outstanding, even though the Pirates had qualified from their group, with Leicester and Glasgow doing likewise. The Tigers opted to withdraw, in reverence to the death of the longest-reigning British monarch, but dates were of a premium as the weather turned more than a little inclement.
Poole opened their racing programme with the Bjarne Pedersen Testimonial and then made rapid progress to the KO Cup semi-finals with home and away victories over Plymouth, although it was to be a further five months before they rode in that competition again. By the end of April the Pirates had won three out of four league meetings, only a narrow defeat at Leicester (42-48) preventing it from being a perfect defence. There was no shame in losing to the Lions, their strength evident by the fact that they went on to top the league table. Poole recorded their lowest score of the campaign when they were heavily beaten at Plymouth in the league, the 37-53 came at the start of May (3rd) but Poole saw the rest of the month out with three wins and a draw. One of those victories was against Newcastle, the Diamonds folding shortly afterwards and therefore became an expunged result. The draw was at Glasgow, a mighty performance as the Tigers, like Leicester, ensured they missed the early stages of the play-offs with their overall second place finish.
But, a few questions were asked in June. Poole had to dig deep to gain a home win over Edinburgh but then lost a proud home unbeaten record which had spanned twenty-three matches, when Leicester walked away from Wimborne Road with a 47-43 win to their name. Although they came close at Scunthorpe two nights later they missed out on a win, going down 44-45 and then Plymouth made it three matches without a win for Poole as they held out in a controversial draw at Wimborne Road. The return to winning ways came on June 29th with a 49-41 home win over Berwick.
July saw the Pirates on a mini-Scottish tour which saw them lose at Edinburgh by eight points but drew at Berwick the following night. That June blip was behind them and they demolished Glasgow 51-39 when back home from those travels, evidenced further when they produced a similar score at Plymouth in the Jubilee Trophy, before reverting to league activity and beating Scunthorpe by twenty points back on home shale. July was brought to a close with two Jubilee encounters against Birmingham, both convincing wins for the Pirates and then a draw at Oxford and a home win against the newcomers meant the Pirates were unbeaten in the third competition, things staying that way when they sent an injury-ravaged Plymouth side packing 62-28 to conclude their group fixtures. In their final league match the Pirates dispensed with Redcar comfortably enough, securing third place in the table but needed to wait to see who they would meet in the quarter finals of the play-offs. The final two weeks saw the Championship League Riders at Wimborne Road and the much heralded Neil Middleditch Testimonial, and so it meant that after that win over Redcar on August 17th it was to be almost a month before the Pirates rode as a unit again, weather intervening in the early weeks of September. But with Plymouth being declared as the sixth place finishers (ahead of the end of August cut-off date), Poole advanced into the semi-final of the play-offs with a 60 point score at home followed by a 50 point return away. In between those two fixtures the Pirates fitted in a KO Cup semi-final visit to Leicester and a narrow two point defeat left them with positive vibes of reaching the cup final, advancing there with a 60-30 thrashing of the Lions that sent shockwaves throughout the sport.
Frustrated by a controversial abandoned visit to Glasgow in the play-offs on September 25th, the Pirates humbled the Tigers with their third successive 60-30 Wimborne Road result in, what became, the first leg of the play-off semi-final, making themselves firm favourites for a twelfth play-off final appearance since 2002.
After a Saturday postponement of that outstanding play-off visit to Glasgow, the Pirates had to make rapid arrangements to head back up North on Sunday 2nd October and the performance they put in still had evidence of their annoyance about the events of the previous week, hitting the fifty-point mark for a comprehensive 110-69 aggregate mauling of the Tigers.
So just Redcar (KO Cup) and Leicester (league) stood in the way of the Pirates bringing home the same two trophies as they had won twelve months ago. A seven point away win in the first leg of the cup positioned Poole as strong favourites to retain the KO Cup and they saw the job through with a 52-38 home win, the lowest home score since the middle of July, to post an aggregate 100-79 victory.
Twice the Grand Final suffered postponements, once at Wimborne Road and then at Beaumont Park in the space of twenty-four hours, the Pirates eventually completing their home leg on 26th October with a slender 49-41 advantage, having trailed by ten points at one stage. With the wet weather setting in and two more postponements of the second leg, Leicester were forced into relinquishing home advantage to be able to get the competition concluded before riders disappeared for the winter. King's Lynn therefore became the venue, the Cook brothers and Nathan Ablitt making their debuts at the place on November 4th. That lack of experience certainly didn't show, especially with Ben and Zach and with a bit of track knowledge sharing by Richard Lawson the Pirates prevailed to win a tenth league title since Matt Ford took control of the club, a 28th trophy for team manager Neil Middleditch, and the usual winter headaches of how to break up a trophy-sweeping squad.
The big shock of the break-up of the 2022 team was the moving on of skipper Danny King, and his captaincy was handed to Steve Worrall. Also retaining their places were Richard Lawson, Ben and Zach Cook but then Kyle Newman was recalled, Adam Roynon was brought in to the club and the plans were for Jack Thomas to fulfil a reserve berth. But before a wheel was turned in anger a change of personnel became necessary when youngster Thomas sustained serious injuries in a practice session at Scunthorpe. The Poole management looked close to home and gave Anders Rowe a chance to race for his local club and he grasped it with both hands.
Once the action got underway the Pirates were rapidly on the glory tail and swept Plymouth and new boys Oxford aside in the newly branded BSN series, whilst the obstacle of Plymouth in the knockout cup was comfortably dealt with only to create a further tie with Oxford!
In the play-off section of the BSN Series a double over Redcar set up a mouth-watering clash with Glasgow but the Pirates made easy work of the Tigers with a 104-76 aggregate total to maintain the impressive record of winning all the contested silverware since joining the Championship.
A 96-84 cup conquest over the Cheetahs then put Poole in the final of that competition, although it would be nearly twenty weeks before the destiny of that trophy would be decided. By that time, sensationally the Pirates had lost their grip on that one-hundred percent trophy hunt record, for, whilst they had successfully negotiated their play-off group which they had chosen to be against Scunthorpe and Edinburgh, a disappointing start to a rescheduled first leg final at Glasgow effectively left the Pirates relinquishing the league title they had proudly held since 2021. The Tigers brought a fourteen point lead with them to Dorset and then produced a resilient performance, masterminded by play-off specialist Chris Harris to hold Poole to just four points.
Poole had less than a week to regroup their thoughts as the cup final beckoned with Scunthorpe their opponents. Originally washed out on Friday 13th October the first leg was hastily rescheduled for forty-eight hours later. Poole came to within a heat advantage away from avoiding defeat in North Lincolnshire but Ryan Douglas produced a great ride to hold out the free-scoring Zach Cook in the final heat. Scunthorpe arrived at Wimborne Road with an advantageous four points between the two sides and full of determination to make it another trophy cabinet robbery. The awful weather made track conditions a true leveller and a captain's winning performance from Simon Lambert coupled with Drew Kemp coming back to haunt at Wimborne Road ensured that the Scorpions held out for a draw.
As Poole promoter Dan Ford summarised " by our standards 2023 finished as a relatively disappointing season despite winning the BSN Series, finishing top of the league and reaching all three major finals. Our season just kind of imploded at the end and we came up short in both the Play-offs and the Knockout cup and we have been left wondering what might have been had the season finished a month earlier."
The relative bareness of the trophy cabinet will undoubtedly make the class of '24 even hungrier for silverware.